DATE=3/17/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=CHINA KOREA (L-ONLY) NUMBER=2-260307 BYLINE=JIM RANDLE DATELINE=SEOUL, KOREA CONTENT= INTERNET=YES INTRO: The commander of U-S Forces in Korea says U-S intelligence is watching North Korea with special care in case Pyongyang tries to launch any surprise military action while Washington is preoccupied by the tensions between neighboring China and Taiwan. General Thomas Schwartz also says North Korean forces are getting steadily better, in spite of severe economic problems. V- O-A's Jim Randle reports from Seoul, where top U- S and South Korean officials are discussing defense issues. Text: General Schwartz told reporters North Korean military activity seemed "about normal" over the past few weeks. But the U-S Army General says North Korean forces are getting better, day to day, year to year, doing more training and moving units closer to the border with South Korea. Other Pentagon officials say the renewed training is mostly by North Korea's massive artillery units, and comes after a period when economic problems appeared to limit military activity. North and South Korea have been in a state of armed truce for decades following several years of bitter war in the early 1950's (1950-1953). Northern forces are more numerous, with more than a million soldiers and thousands of pieces of artillery. South Korean forces are smaller, but equipped with more advanced weapons, sensors and communications gear. South Korea fields about 600-thousand troops, backed by 38-thousand Americans. The one point eight billion dollar annual cost of keeping those U-S soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines on watch in Korea is one of the issues on the agenda Saturday as U-S Defense Secretary William Cohen holds talks with Korea's Minister of National Defense, President and other leaders. The Government in Seoul now pays about 38 per cent of the bill, but some members of the U-S Congress would like Korea to pay more. But South Korea is just emerging from an economic crisis, and is reluctant to pay more for the military. The two sides will also talk about allegations that U-S troops killed hundreds of Korean civilians in the early, chaotic days of the Korean war at a village called No Gun Ri. News accounts of the incident say the Americans feared North Korean troops were hiding among the refugees. South Korea is the final stop on an Asian journey that has taken Defense Secretary William Cohen to Hong Kong, Japan and Vietnam. (Signed) NEB/PT 17-Mar-2000 19:44 PM EDT (18-Mar-2000 0044 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .
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