Divided Koreas move closer to setting up joint fishing area in East Sea, statement says


South and North Korea are still far apart over setting up joint fishing areas along their disputed western sea border but they have made some progress in establishing similar zones off their shared eastern sea border, a South Korean government report said Sunday.

In a statement posted on its Website, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said working officials of both Koreas made some meaningful headway on a proposal to open their shared eastern sea border to fishing boats from both sides.

“The South and the North agreed to actively cooperate to allow South Korean ships begin fishing at designated areas in the North Korean side of the East Sea within 2008,” the ministry said, outlining a six-point agreement reached at a two-day inter-Korean working meeting that ended at the North’s border city of Kaesong on Saturday.

The two Koreas have yet to agree on many specifics on the eastern sea border, including where to set up the proposed joint fishing areas, but they agreed on some details, including how South Korea should pay for its fish catch in the northern side of the border, it said.

North Korea, among other things, agreed to allow South Korean ships to pay in goods, not cash, the statement said.

The sides also agreed to hold a new round of working talks early next year to discuss Seoul’s provision of “fishing implements and gears that will constitute its fishing fees” and other related issues,” it said.

They have also agreed to begin construction on a joint fishery research and storage center in the North before the end of the year, for which a survey team of some 20 South Korean officials will travel to the North on Dec. 21-25, according to the agreement.

It’s unclear how such agreement on the eastern sea border would affect efforts by the two Koreas to ease tension along their acutely disputed western sea border, the site of two bloody naval clashes in 1999 and 2002.

During an October summit, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il agreed to turn the disputed western maritime border into a peace zone in which fishing boats of both sides would jointly operate.

High-level military officials of both sides met at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom last week to discuss the western sea border but failed to reach agreement.

North Korea insisted that the proposed joint fishing areas in the West Sea must be established south of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), an interim border unilaterally set by the American-led U.N. Command right after the 1953 end of the Korean War.

South Korea turned down the North’s demand, counterproposing that any joint fishing area in the area must conjoin waters on both side of the NLL.


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