Friday, August 31, 2007

the Northern Limit Line - South vs North

I remember the skirmish. It was during my first year in Korea. They didn't make a big deal about it here. It was on the news, of course, but it was over as fast as it began. I was told that basically, a fight broke out between a South Korean ship and a North Korean ship. Korean friends told me that the South Korean ship was sunk, or something like that, and the North Korean ship was towed off in flames (I don't think it was that drastic).

North Limit Line
A June 29, 2002, skirmish between Northern and Southern ships killed four South Koreans here. The fight broke out after two Northern patrol vessels accompanying fishing boats crossed this maritime border and one opened fire after ignoring warnings to retreat, South Korean officials said. North Korea, however, accused Southern boats of provoking the battle by entering communist territory.
North Korea has never accepted the Northern Limit Line, which was drawn up by the U.S.-led U.N. Command to avert possible clashes after the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. The communist nation wants the sea border to be moved further south, which would allow it access to rich crab and fishing waters. []

Sea Border Hot Issue at Koreas Summit
By JAE-SOON CHANG The Associated Press Wednesday, August 29, 2007; 5:25 AM
SEOUL, South Korea --
Half a dozen South Korean sailors died in a gunbattle with North Korea five years ago defending what Seoul's top minister on relations with Pyongyang now suggests could be changed: the sea border between the Koreas.
Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung's suggestion earlier this month left the country badly divided ahead of a rare summit with the North _ stoking conservatives' anger that is already simmering over allegations that simply holding the meeting itself is yet another capitulation to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il by the liberal government.
At issue is how to view the disputed western sea border and how to react if Kim raises it at his October talks with President Roh Moo-hyun in Pyongyang, as many analysts predict.
The two Koreas have yet to agree on their sea border more than 50 years after the end of their 1950-53 war. Instead, they rely on a line that the then-commander of U.N. forces, which fought for the South, drew unilaterally at the end of the conflict.
Conservatives in South Korea have long considered the Northern Limit Line, or NLL, an unquestionable sea border. But liberals have increasingly viewed it as a major source of military tension on the divided peninsula, and an obstacle impeding true reconciliation with Pyongyang.
The division came to the fore when Lee said earlier this month that he believed the sea border was not formally set, and that the nation should "reflect on" a 2002 naval skirmish with the North in terms of how best to maintain security.
His point was that the NLL's main purpose is to prevent maritime clashes and, therefore, if the line itself is a source of tension, the country should reconsider how it is demarcated _ an argument unacceptable to conservatives who view the NLL as something to be defended at any cost.
Further enraging them was Lee's choice of a Korean word to mean "reflect." The word, "banseong," could also mean "repentance," which gave the impression that Lee suggested South Korea was wrong to defend the border in the 2002 clash that left six South Korean soldiers dead and 18 others wounded.
"Our young heroes, who died glorious deaths while trying to safeguard the NLL, would be weeping in heaven," said Na Kyung-won, spokeswoman of the opposition Grand National Party.
Among those shocked was even South Korea's defense chief.
"I can't understand it either," Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo was widely reported in local media as saying in response to Lee's comments. Kim's ministry refused to confirm the remark, out of apparent concern it may publicize the row with the Unification Ministry.
It has been considered a near taboo in South Korea even to suggest having talks with the North on the sea border issue.
However, Lee and other ministry officials have openly called for flexibility on the issue recently, prompting suspicions in the media that the government is trying to soften an expected backlash it would draw from the public if it discusses the matter at the summit.
The president's office has given no clear-cut answer on whether the issue would be discussed at the summit, only saying: "The NLL is a de-facto maritime borderline that we have defended for the past 50 years."
The country's main opposition party, mass-circulation newspapers and other conservatives demand the government promise not to put the matter on the summit agenda.
The two Koreas agreed in a 1992 pact to continue talks to demarcate the sea border while respecting the NLL until a new border is set.
South Korea has rebuffed the North's demand for sea border talks so far, saying it can discuss the issue only after the two sides take substantial military confidence-building measures.
Liberal analysts say Seoul cannot leave the issue unresolved any longer if it wants to pursue further reconciliation with Pyongyang.
"This issue has become a key to overall South-North relations," said Kim Geun-shik, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Kyungnam University. "We need to at least discuss it with North Korea to find a compromise."
Conservatives argue the South Korea must remain firm.
"Why don't we then pull back the land border by about 100 kilometers? That would make North Korea very pleased," one military official quipped, speaking on condition of anonymity citing the issue's sensitivity.

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