DPRK/ROK railway safety talks

Interesting stuff from the Korea Times:

Military generals of South and North Korea will hold the fourth round of talks from May 16 to 18 on easing tension along the heavily fortified border and avoiding accidental clashes in the West Sea border, the Defense Ministry said on Friday.

The talks, to be held at the truce village of Panmunjom, will also deal with ways to guarantee the safe passage of those using cross-border railways and roads, ministry officials said.

The cross-border passage issue is drawing keen attention as former President Kim Dae-jung hopes to travel to North Korea by using an inter-Korean railway next month amid the prolonged international dispute over Pyongyang’s nuclear programs.

Under a temporary agreement struck in 2003, the two Koreas guarantee the safety of traffic across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on roads, but the pact failed to include the passage on railroads, the officials said.

“The opening of inter-Korean railways and roads has long been on the table,’’ Col. Moon Sung-mook, chief of the ministry’s North Korean affairs, said in a briefing. “The South Korean delegation this time will also try to reach an agreement with the North on the matter, as both sides already share the necessity for it.’’

The South and North have almost completed construction work on reconnecting two railway lines that have been closed for half a century. North Korean military authorities, however, have been reluctant to give the green light to the railway linkage.

The 27.3-kilometer Tonghae line crosses the border at the Korean Peninsula’s eastern line, while the Kongui line, some 25.5 kilometers long, connects the two border cities of Munsan in South Korea to Kaesong in North Korea.

Working-level talks on the railway linkage have been underway since the North accepted the former president’s second trip to the communist nation late last month. The two sides are scheduled to hold a meeting on May 16 at the North’s Mt. Kumgang to discuss details on Kim Dae-jung’s visit to Pyongyang, according to the Unification Ministry.

Establishment of a joint fishing area in the disputed West Sea border and a direct hotline between the two authorities will be on the top of the agenda, Moon added.

The military talks in March ended without substantial progress as the North stuck to its long-held position that the sea border should be remapped.

The Northern Limit Line (NLL) has been controversial since the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. Seoul views the NLL as the de facto borderline, while Pyongyang denies it, claiming the U.S.-led United Nations Command unilaterally decided it after the war.

A series of naval clashes over the years in the rich fishing grounds of the West Sea have caused scores of casualties on both sides.

Maj. Gen. Han Min-gu, the ministry’s chief policymaker, will represent the five-member South Korean delegation at the upcoming talks, while the North’s delegation will be led by Maj. Gen. Kim Yong-chul, officials said.

Inter-Korean relations have thawed since the historic summit in 2000. But tension persists along the world’s most fortified border. The South maintains 690,000-strong forces against the North’s 1.1-million military.

In the first two previous talks, the sides agreed on a set of confidence-building measures such as dismantling propaganda facilities along the 248-kilometer land border in phases. Pyongyang, however, has failed to fully implement the agreements after Seoul airlifted 468 North Korean defectors from a third nation. It also criticized the annual joint military drills between South Korea and the United States.



Comments are closed.