[VIEWPOINT]Limit line is on solid foundation

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[VIEWPOINT]Limit line is on solid foundation

North Korea demanded that Seoul notify it before salvaging the South Korean ship that sank during the naval skirmish of the two Koreas in the Yellow Sea on June 29. Such a demand, however, is a North Korean strategy to rationalize its illegal armed attack. The skirmish occurred on the boundary line that North Korea unilaterally announced not long after a naval clash in June 1999 in order to force Seoul to stop enforcing the UN Northern Limit Line.

The North Korean intention became even more clear when it said it would accept Seoul's offer to meet to discuss the battle only after the NLL is scrapped. Pyeongyang insisted that Seoul's enforcement of the limit line provoked the recent naval battle.

The North Koreans' demand will be clearer if readers are familiar with the background of the Northern Limit Line and its status in international law. Although the Northern Limit Line was not stipulated in the armistice, it was set up by the concession and consideration of the South Korean side. On July 17, 1953, when the Korean War armistice agreement was signed, a land demarcation line was easily drawn because both sides had military forces in place. The sea and the air, though, were dominated by South Korean and United Nations forces. South Korea and the United Nations controlled the islands surrounding the peninsula, including islands near Hwanghae province and North Hamgyeong province. South Korea gave those islands to North Korea when the truce was signed -- except for five islands in the Yellow Sea near where the recent naval incident broke out.

Second, even before the Korean War broke out in 1950, the five islands and their surrounding waters were under the South's jurisdiction. The five islands were below the demarcation line established after World War II; therefore the islands and their surrounding waters belonged to South Korea both before the war and after the war.

Third, the NLL was established by the United Nations and notified to North Korea, setting the limit line for military operations by both sides. In general, the line was drawn to run down the middle of the areas between the land occupied by North Korea and the islands under the control of South Korea. It was a rational demarcation line. At the time the NLL was set up, Pyeongyang did not object to it, and both Koreas observed the limit line for nearly two decades. But in 1973, Pyeongyang began to argue that the waters surrounding the five islands in the Yellow Sea near the limit line were its territory. That was too late, under international practice, for Pyeongyang to try to change the status quo.

Fourth, it is accepted practice that jurisdiction over waters surrounding islands should belong to South Korea if the islands are under South Korea's control. In other words, if the North recognizes the South's jurisdiction over the islands, it is absurd to claim its own jurisdiction over the waters surrounding the islands.

Fifth, the NLL is a boundary line drawn in the sea as well as a military demarcation line. Some experts expressed concern over the free passage of North Korean ships through the region because the distance between Yeon-pyeong and Socheong islands, both of which are among the five islands under South Korean control, exceeds 24 nautical miles. But there is no problem in regulating the passage of North Korean ships between the two islands because the boundary line is also instituted as a military demarcation line.

The clincher, however, is Article 11 of the North-South Basic Agreement, signed on Feb. 19, 1992. It recognizes the juridical status of the Northern Limit Line. The agreement says, "The South-North demarcation line and the areas of nonaggression shall be identical with the Military Demarcation Line provided in the Military Armistice Agreement of July 27, 1953, and the areas over which each side has exercised jurisdiction until the present time." An annex to the basic agreement that went into effect on Sept. 17, 1992, confirms that understanding. The agreement is the basic law governing relations between the two sides.

In conclusion, the Northern Limit Line is clearly established in international law as a military demarcation line and a boundary line in the sea. North Korea, to join the global community, must end its obstinate demands and act more rationally.


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The writer is the president of Transnational Law and Business University.

by Lyou Byung-hwa

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