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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Tuesday, September 5, 2000

S. Korean leader: Military talks
will 'pave the way to peace'

By Jim Lea
Osan bureau chief

North Korea’s agreement to discuss ways to reduce military tension will "pave the way to peace" on the Korean Peninsula, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung said Sunday.

"Only when soldiers who have guns and bayonets agree to cooperate to bring peace will people on both sides of the border be able to live with a sense of security," Kim said in an hourlong television interview aired on major Korean networks.

At the end of last week’s round of bilateral ministerial meetings in Pyongyang, a joint statement said the two sides had agreed to hold the military talks. In the television interview, Kim said he had told Seoul’s delegation to the talks to press the tension-reduction issue in their discussions.

On Wednesday and Thursday — the two scheduled days of the second round of talks — North Korean delegates refused to discuss the issue. However, the South Korean chief delegate, Unification Minister Park Jae-kyu, was invited Thursday to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il at an undisclosed location.

At the meeting, held early Friday, Kim approved holding the military talks, a Unification Ministry spokesman in Seoul said, adding the discussions would come during the third round of ministerial talks to be held on Cheju Island later this month.

South Korea wants to establish a hot line between the countries’ military leaders, hold regular meetings between defense ministers and set up exchange visits between South and North senior military officers.

In Sunday’s television interview, Kim also said he would work hard to persuade Pyongyang to return more than 700 Korean War POWs and other South Koreans being held in the North.

The Defense Ministry in Seoul says 263 South Korean soldiers captured in the final days of the Korean War are being held at labor camps — predominantly coal mines — in the North. The Unification Ministry also claims that more than 400 South Koreans, primarily fishermen, abducted by the North also are being held.

Kim said the South’s repatriation of 63 convicted North Korean spies Saturday should be helpful in getting South Koreans held by the North returned. Pyongyang, however, says it is holding no South Koreans against their will.

Kim also said in the interview that no timetable has been set for a visit to South Korea by North Korea’s leader. During the historic Inter-Korean Summit held in Pyongyang in June, President Kim invited Kim Jong Il to visit the South.

Kim Jong Il has hinted that he will make the trip late this year, but no final plans have been made.

Bae Gi-chul contributed to this report.

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