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[EDITORIALS]South Korea Fumbled Freighter Issue

June 04,2001
To state the conclusion first, the government has confronted the intrusion of North Korean cargo ships into South Korean waters very thoughtlessly without distinguishing the order of things. For the first time since the adoption of an armistice agreement in 1953 on the Korean peninsula, three North Korean vessels have trespassed the Cheju Strait claiming it was an order from above. Yet, the government has in fact kept a blind eye aimed at the spirit of the June 15 inter-Korean Joint Declaration. It expressed its willingness to allow North Korean vessels to cross the strait if they take appropriate measures such as notifying in advance and asking for permission. It is paramount to having paved the way for the North's calculated "demonstration". As if deriding the South Korean government's powerless confrontation, two of the three vessels openly crossed the Northern Limit Line before returning and a fourth ship unilaterally intruded into the southwestern sea Monday and said it would pass through the Cheju Strait.

As previously stated, given the time and expense that would be saved by passing through the strait, we could recognize the right of innocent passage for civilian vessels from the North. That falls in line with the spirit of inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation. It is also unreasonable to make North Korean vessels only an exception to the right of harmless passage recognized by international law, even though the two Koreas are technically at war. If so, this is something that must be resolved through consultations between the two governments. It was, however, not in order for us to have stepped forth to say that we would positively review the right of innocent passage when the North had not made any official request. The government should have first sternly protested the intrusion and asked for an explanation from the North. Then, through dialogue between the two governments, it should have officially discussed and decided on whether the freighters should be allowed to pass the strait. Reconciliation and cooperation and a strong security regime are separate matters. The two should not at all times be mixed.



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