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INTRO:  U-S Defense Secretary William Cohen is urging 
caution in dealing with the rapid political changes on 
the Korean peninsula.  Speaking in Thailand Tuesday, 
Mr. Cohen said North Korea's huge military presence 
along the North-South Korean border is cause for 
concern.  VOA Southeast Asia Correspondent Gary Thomas 

TEXT:  Speaking in Bangkok, Defense Secretary Cohen 
says there is cause for both optimism and concern on 
the Korean peninsula.

Mr. Cohen - who spoke before his departure for Seoul - 
said tensions have subsided along the North-South 
Korean border.  But he says the actions taken so far 
are only the first steps.

            /// COHEN ACT ///

I think it's clear that there has been a reduction in 
the tensions that have previously existed.  But I 
think that we're in the first stages in this move 
toward reconciliation or rapprochement or some state 
of positive affairs between North and South (Korea). 
And I think that that we have to be very cautious.

            /// END ACT ///

After years of hostility, relations between North and 
South Korea are thawing.  The North and South Korean 
leaders have held a summit meeting. A long-abandoned 
north-south railroad line is being rebuilt, along with 
a highway, which will be the first direct transport 
links between the two sides since the Korean War.

Mr. Cohen says the United States is heartened by these 
moves.  But he also warns that North Korea's massive 
troop presence along the border is still worrisome.

            /// COHEN ACT TWO ///

We are encouraged by the steps that we see being 
taken.  But we must remain vigilant because of the 
size of the army that the North Koreans still 
maintain, their status of being forward deployed, with 
as many as 800-thousand that are still forward 
deployed with the large amount of artillery that could 
certainly pose a serious threat to the people in Seoul 
and beyond.  So it's important that as these steps are 
taken that we remain vigilant, and I think prudence is 
the watchword for all concerned.

            /// END ACT //

Mr. Cohen is on an Asian tour for defense 
consultations with Indonesia, the Philippines, 
Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, and Japan.

During his visit to South Korea, Mr. Cohen will meet 
with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and top 
defense officials.  The two sides are to discuss the 
Status of Forces Agreement, which governs the legal 
status of the 37-thousand U-S troops stationed in 
South Korea.  Mr. Cohen says good progress has been 
made on reaching a new agreement, but that he does not 
expect the a new pact to be concluded during his brief 
visit there.  (signed)


19-Sep-2000 05:13 AM LOC (19-Sep-2000 0913 UTC)

Source: Voice of America

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