중앙데일리

Anger up over sea line dispute

Aug 24,2007
The Defense Ministry wants the Unification Ministry to stop discussing the sea border in the Yellow Sea that has stood between the two Koreas for over half a century.
“In light of the upcoming inter-Korean summit, it is not desirable that the Defense Ministry and Unification Ministry should show signs of friction,” said Kim Hyung-gi, the Defense Ministry’s spokesman, yesterday. “The debate [on the sea border] should stop.”
There has been tension between the two ministries ever since Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung’s recent comment that the Northern Limit Line, the border drawn at the end of the Korean War to separate the two countries in the Yellow Sea, is not considered “territory.”
Lee also said the South needed to “reconsider” the reason that a 2002 sea battle was fought after a North Korean patrol boat crossed the line into South Korean waters.
Sources said that Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo on Tuesday told the National Assembly’s Defense Committee that the military would “not give up the Northern Limit Line.”
Hong Ik-pyo, a policy adviser to the unification minister, said yesterday that he “could not agree that even a slight change in the Northern Limit Line would cause a serious threat to national security.”
He posted his comments on a message board of the Government Information Agency, arguing that there was nothing wrong with discussing the matter with the North.
But given that South Korea sailors have lost their lives in defense of the line, the Defense Ministry is very sensitive to the issue.
A senior Defense Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the military is outraged. “Granted, he [the unification minister] is a civilian and may not know the significance of what he said from a military standpoint. Still, it’s something he should not have said. It was unacceptable.”
Kim Dong-jin, a defense minister in the late 90s and a member of the Korean Retired Generals and Admirals Association, didn’t hide his disgust. “I am speechless. What he said is not even worth commenting on,” said Kim. “It’s just not worth it.”
The issue is growing into a major talking point in political circles. GNP lawmaker Chung Hyung-kun argued yesterday that the summit “was delayed because they failed to agree on the NLL issue as an agenda in the talks, not because of severe flood damage.” The party’s spokeswoman Na Kyung-won said yesterday, “Concession to North Korea over the NLL is tantamount to an act of treachery, like giving away Dokdo to Japan.”
When the current armistice that ended the Korean War was signed in 1953, the land demarcation line was clearly drawn but the North and the United Nations forces could not agree on a sea border. Instead the Northern Limit Line was imposed by General Mark Clark, the UN commander.
In the 1970s, Pyongyang began to dispute the border, calling it a one-sided decision and frequently crossed the border with its navy. Two deadly naval clashes occurred in June 1999 and 2002, leaving casualties on both sides.
“Any territory occupied at the end of an armed conflict, unless there is a specific treaty, remains with its possessor,” said Kim Young-koo, the head of the Ryeo Hae Institute, which researches the legality of territorial conflicts on the sea. Kim is also an adviser to the Korea Coast Guard. “The fact that the Korean War went into an armistice means that both sides accepted the territory that they had at the end of the conflict. This is very much in line with international law.”
The flexibility hinted at by the unification minister has given rise to speculation that President Roh Moo-hyun’s administration might offer to redraw the sea border or suggest some sort of jointly controlled area, but observers say the possibility is low.
“The United Nations Command would need to get involved. And this is something that can only be discussed when other issues, such as the North Korean nuclear issue, are somewhat resolved,” said Yu Ho-yeol, a North Korea specialist at Korea University.
“When they start to discuss a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula then they could start addressing the issue.”
A government official denied that any plans were in the pipeline. “Pyongyang may raise the issue and we can discuss it, but that is far from redrawing the sea border,” said the official.
The North has frequently raised the matter at military talks with the South and recently walked out of a joint military session when the South refused to discuss the line.


by Brian Lee Staff Writerafricanu@joongang.co.kr



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