- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, Jan. 6 (UPI) — North Korea has set a dangerous precedent by rejecting armistice rules governing the heavily fortified inter-Korean border zone, the U.S. military commander in South Korea said Monday.

The North's military has moved banned 7.62 mm machine guns into the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas six times in December, violating the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean war.

At last month's border contact with the North, the U.S.-led U.N. Command presented photographs proving North Korean soldiers took machine guns into the transportation corridor where North and South Korea are building a railway and road.

South Korean soldiers have complained about the North Korean machine guns in the buffer zone. The armistice agreement limits personnel to small arms and rifles.

But North Korea has refused the proposal, the UNC said and blamed the North for attempting "to simply dismiss the issue as a matter outside the purview of the armistice."

"This raises serious security concerns in the transportation corridors," said Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, the commander of the U.S. Forces Korea and the UNC. "If this situation continues, I believe the (South) Korean peoples' security could be diminished by North Korea's continued refusal to discuss their most recent armistice violations," LaPorte said in a statement.

Under the armistice treaty, UNC oversees the southern part of the DMZ. Although any south-bound border crossings require the UNC's approval, North Korea has contended that the transport passages should be treated as an exception and that all matters in the area should be dealt with exclusively by the two Koreas.

The two Koreas still are in a state of technical war since their armed conflict ended in an armistice but not a peace treaty. Their border is the world's last Cold War frontier with nearly 2 million troops on both sides.

The tensions increased amid a standoff over North Korea's plans to revive the mothballed nuclear complex.

North Korea on Monday said it needed to make the move to increase "its self-defensive military capability" to cope with the "U.S. intensified policy to invade and stifle it with (nuclear weapons)."

"If the United States unleashes a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula, it will not escape its destruction," said Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said. Washington has ruled out talks with North Korea unless North Korea drops its nuclear ambition.

South Korea is stepping up diplomatic efforts regarding the crisis but signs are growing that a rift is developing between Seoul and Washington over the dispute.

President Kim Dae-jung's national security adviser Yim Sung-joon on Monday called for a re-adjustment of the U.S.-led effort to pressure North Korea into giving up its nuclear program, saying the Bush administration has worsened the nuclear standoff.

"The situation has worsened, despite an effort to apply diplomatic pressure on the North as agreed by Seoul, Tokyo and Washington last October. It is time that Seoul proposes a solution for allies and neighbors so as to create a turning point to the current nuclear stalemate," Yim said.

Yim will travel as Kim's envoy for Washington Tuesday to meet his U.S. counterpart Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the new Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, among others.

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