Thu, Nov 29, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Koreas struggle over fishing zone

CONTACT North Korea's spy chief will make a rare trip to South Korea, while the US envoy will visit Pyongyang for talks on ending North Korea's nuclear arms program


North and South Korea struggled yesterday to resolve differences over creating a joint fishing zone around their disputed sea border at a second day of rare defense talks in Pyongyang.

The frontier was the main sticking point at the meeting between South Korean Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo and his North Korean counterpart Kim Il-chol.

"I felt our differences are big," the South's Kim said after talks yesterday morning, according to pool reports. "I have to return home tomorrow, regardless of whether things go well or don't go well. ... That is a big burden."

The three days of talks that run through today -- the second-ever meeting between defense chiefs of the Koreas, which remain technically at war -- are aimed at fleshing out agreements struck at a summit between the two Koreas last month.

At the summit North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun agreed to establish a joint fishing ground off the divided peninsula's west coast to resolve a long-running row over the sea border.

The sea frontier was demarcated by the US-led UN command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War without consulting the North and the communist country has long demanded the border be redrawn further south.

The dispute prompted deadly skirmishes between the two navies in 1999 and 2002.

The defense chiefs were meeting this week to discuss where to create a joint fishing zone as a way to reduce tension, but remained at odds over the North's insistence that the zone be set up south of the frontier.

The South has proposed that each side provide the same amount of area around the sea border for the joint fishing zone.

Another point of contention was North Korea's reluctance to provide military agreements on security arrangements for a cross-border freight train service set to launch Dec. 11 and other reconciliation projects, the pool reports said.

Without such an accord, the train service -- which would be the first regular rail service between the Koreas since the peninsula was divided more than half a century ago -- cannot run.

The North said the South can win such agreements if it makes concessions on the sea border and other issues, pool reports said.

The prime ministers of the two Koreas met in Seoul earlier this month to follow up on the summit and agreed on the freight train service and construction projects in the North.

The US envoy to talks on ending North Korea's nuclear arms program will visit Pyongyang next week on a trip seen as key to clinching by year's end a deal that leads to the North's removal from a US terrorist blacklist.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill is to meet North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-gwan and possibly other officials in Pyongyang during his Dec. 3-5 visit, State Department spokeswoman Nancy Beck said in Washington.

Hill will also travel to Yongbyon to observe the disablement of a nuclear reactor there, and meet US experts who aim to finish the job by the end of the year.

China said this week that countries seeking to push forward the disarmament pact would send a joint team to Yongbyon from Tuesday to assess steps to cripple the nuclear complex.

"I just want to see how the disabling is going," Hill told reporters after arriving in Tokyo yesterday for talks with his Japanese counterpart. "From what I can gather from the reports, things are going well so I'd like to see it myself."

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