- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2004

SEOUL — The first-ever meeting between general-level military officers of the two Koreas ended yesterday without significant breakthroughs, but with an agreement to hold further talks next week.

At a six-hour meeting in the North’s Mount Kumgang tourist resort, delegations from the two sides discussed the establishment of a communications infrastructure to forestall naval clashes off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula.

The rich crab-fishing grounds in the Yellow Sea were the scene of fatal naval clashes in which vessels were sunk in 1999 and 2002.

Seafood is a significant cash source for the currency-starved North, and the lucrative crab- fishing season is at its height in May and June.

The area of tension is bisected by an oceanic boundary — the so-called Northern Limit Line — between the two nations set by the United Nations at the conclusion of the Korean War. That boundary is not officially recognized by the North.

The South Korean delegation at yesterday’s talks was headed by Rear Adm. Park Cheong-hwa, and Rear Adm. Ahn Ik-san led the North Korean team.

Previously, North Korea had allowed only colonel-level talks between the militaries of the two countries.

Further talks are to take place in the South Korean mountain resort of Mount Sorak on June 3. Observers here hope the meetings will become a regular fixture, as such a format would offer a venue for the resolution of military flare-ups.

The talks are a further sign of the gradual thawing of relations between the two Koreas this year.

The North expressed satisfaction at the May 14 overturning of the impeachment of liberal South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, and welcomed South Korean assistance in the aftermath of a train explosion in the city of Ryongchon on April 29.

A plan to open a South Korean-invested industrial park in the North’s city of Kaesong also has been moving apace. The South is the second-largest investor in the North after China.

Many South Koreans have a positive view of a series of six-party talks sponsored by China on the North’s nuclear-weapons program despite their lack of results so far.

But tensions remain. People in the South have protested the Seoul government’s reluctance to raise the issue of southerners abducted by the North. More than 400 South Koreans, largely fishermen, are believed to have been abducted over the years. The success of Japanese Prime Minster Junichiro Koizumi, who returned from North Korea last week with five children of abducted Japanese nationals, is likely to put pressure on the government in Seoul to make a similar effort for South Korean abductees.

The recent decision by Washington to relocate troops from South Korea to Iraq has caused worry in conservative circles here about South Korea’s security, but little concern among the new, liberal ruling camp in Seoul. There are 37,000 U.S. troops based in South Korea.

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