Military talks restore hotlines

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Military talks restore hotlines

The two Koreas agreed to restore military communication channels during a meeting between army generals on Thursday in the border village of Panmunjom.

The joint statement from the meeting affirmed that the two sides would faithfully implement an agreement reached during general-level talks in 2004, which stipulated a number of measures aimed at preventing accidental clashes on the border.

The measures include controlling their naval vessels to prevent a conflict in waters west of the peninsula and maintaining contact through exclusive radio frequencies to coordinate rescue operations in case of emergencies.

The two sides also agreed to reopen a military hotline to support naval traffic and prevent armed clashes in waters east of the peninsula. The North had shut down the hotline in May 2011. A second hotline for the western side was cut off after the South shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex in February 2016, but it was restored in January this year.

Thursday’s meeting was the first in over a decade between general-grade military officers from both sides. The last occurred in December 2007.

The talks were supposed to happen earlier, but the North called off a working-level meeting on May 16 just hours before it was supposed to begin in protest of joint military drills between South Korea and the United States.

The meeting, which would have determined a date for general-level talks, was salvaged after South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met on May 26.

The military talks on Thursday began at 10 a.m. and appeared to proceed swiftly as negotiators opted to skip lunch to arrive at a conclusion. The atmosphere was cordial after the North’s main representative Lt. Gen. An Ik-san held up a picture of a tree that South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun planted in Pyongyang when he visited in October 2007.

Discussions hit a deadlock, however, when the two sides tried to hash out the wording of the joint statement, which was finally released at around 9 p.m. after hours of intense negotiations. Lieutenant General An reportedly even said, “Let’s never meet like this again.”

Maj. Gen. Kim Do-gyun, the South’s top representative and head of North Korean policy at the Ministry of National Defense, explained that the agreement was delayed in the final coordination process.

The two parties, he said, “agreed to systematically implement the military-related agreements in the Panmunjom Declaration by frequently holding talks between military authorities in the future.” However, no date for further negotiations was disclosed.

Notably absent from the statement was an agreement on turning the Northern Limit Line, a disputed maritime border on the southern coast of North Korea’s South Hwanghae Province, into a peace zone, though the joint statement said the two parties had “exchanged sufficient opinions” on the matter.

Over the years, the Northern Limit Line has been a constant point of contention between the two countries. It was the site of two direct naval confrontations between North and South patrol boats in 1999 and 2002. It was also the site where a South Korean corvette, the Cheonan, sank from an alleged attack by a North Korean submarine in 2010.

Contrary to expectations that the two sides would discuss demilitarizing the Joint Security Area, the talks yielded no results on the matter. The armistice agreement that ended fighting in the Korean War forbids automatic firearms in the area, but both sides consistently have ignored the rule.

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