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Tuesday, August 29, 2000
Hot line is on the agenda
for next round of Korea talks

By Jim Lea
Osan bureau chief

South Korean officials hope to begin smoothing over 50 years of military tension between the two Koreas when they meet with North Korean officials in Pyong-yang on Tuesday in the second round of ministerial talks.

A Unification Ministry official in Seoul said Sunday that the South Korean delegation wants to discuss a military hot line between the countries, a meeting between defense ministers and exchange visits by military officers.

Those issues are viewed as tension-reduction measures, said the official, who asked not to be identified. South Korean President Kim Dae-jung called for such steps in an Aug. 15 Liberation Day speech.

The South Korean delegation also wants to discuss the issue of prisoners of war and South Koreans allegedly abducted by the North who still are being held by Pyongyang, the official said. According to ministry statistics, more than 700 POWs and abductees are being held by the North, although Pyongyang has denied those assertions.

About 40 convicted North Korean spies who have been released from South Korean prisons in the past two or three years are to be repatriated to Pyongyang on Saturday. The North so far has not mentioned returning any South Koreans.

Unification Minister Park Jae-kyu will head the South Korean delegation for the Tuesday and Wednesday talks. Jon Kum Ji, a senior North Korean cabinet counselor is expected to head the North Korean delegation.

The ministry official said the South Korean delegation also will touch on economic and social issues and on continuing reunions of families separated by the Korean War. Earlier this month, 100 South Koreans traveled to Pyong-yang and 100 North Koreans came to Seoul in the first such reunion since 1985 and only the second since the end of the war.

Last Saturday, the South Korean Red Cross proposed that a meeting be held with its northern counterpart to discuss expanding the reunion program. Among matters to be discussed is the establishment of a permanent reunion meeting place.

Seoul wants to establish the meeting place at Panmunjom, but has said it would consider Chorwon, in the Demilitarized Zone's central sector, as an alternative. Pyongyang wants to establish the meeting place at Mount Kumgang, in the southeast corner of North Korea.

South Korean officials say traveling to Mount Kumgang would be a financial strain for South Koreans taking part in reunions.

Bae Gi-chul contributed to this report.

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