Talks over summit military agenda turn tough

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Talks over summit military agenda turn tough


South Korean Army Col. Cho Yong-geun, right, who heads the National Defense Ministry’s North Korea Policy Division, shakes hands with North Korean Army Col. Om Chang-nam on Thursday in the border village of Panmunjom ahead of a meeting to iron out a military agenda for next week’s inter-Korean summit. [YONHAP]

Defense officials from the two Koreas wrangled over a number of issues Thursday during a meeting in the border village of Panmunjom to flesh out a military agenda for the upcoming summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The meeting, held in the North Korean-controlled building called Tongilgak, began at 10 a.m. and was still going on by 8 p.m.

The two countries were supposed to iron out specifics for a military agreement that Moon and Kim could sign next week during their third summit, spelling out ways to alleviate tension near the border. The Panmunjom Declaration they signed on April 27 during their first summit says that South and North Korea agreed to “completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, including land, air and sea, that are the source of military tension and conflict.”

Moon is set to travel to Pyongyang from Tuesday to Thursday.

But South Korean military sources with knowledge of the working-level meeting said the two sides locked horns Thursday over the creation of a peace zone in the Yellow Sea, which was agreed to in the Panmunjom Declaration.

A part of the declaration says that both Koreas agreed to “devise a practical scheme to turn the areas around the Northern Limit Line [NLL] in the West Sea [Yellow Sea] into a maritime peace zone in order to prevent accidental military clashes and guarantee safe fishing activities.”

On Thursday, according to the military sources, South Korea suggested to the North they create a buffer zone near the NLL which bans both countries’ vessels from entering, which the ministry thought was needed and should come before they transform it into a peace zone.

But the North was said to have shown a “lukewarm response” to this because accepting Seoul’s offer could mean it acknowledges the NLL, which it doesn’t.

The NLL has long been a thorny issue between the two Koreas, as Pyongyang argues it was unilaterally drawn by the U.S.-led United Nations Command after the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. The North has claimed that the line should be redrawn further south.

Exactly how the North reacted to other suggestions from the South was not immediately known, but both countries were expected to discuss installing a hotline between the leaders of both countries’ militaries; disarming the Joint Security Area; removing guard posts inside the demilitarized zone; and jointly excavating the remains of soldiers from the Korean War within the DMZ.

South Korea’s side was represented by a three-member delegation led by Army Col. Cho Yong-geun, who heads the Defense Ministry’s North Korea Policy Division. North Korean Army Col. Om Chang-nam led a three-member team from his country.

On another front, the Blue House announced Thursday evening that a working-level meeting ironing out specifics for next week’s summit will be held today in Panmunjom.

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