North, South Korean generals discuss minor issues
SEOUL — For the first time since the Korean War, general officers from the North and South Korean militaries met face to face Wednesday. But instead of on the battlefield, they came together at the peace table, discussing relatively minor matters they hope will be expanded in future talks.
The one-day discussions, at North Korea’s Diamond Mountain resort, focused mainly on avoiding accidental clashes in the waters off the peninsula’s west coast. In recent years, at least two pitched battles between navy vessels left sailors from both sides dead, ratcheting up tensions between nations still technically at war.
No peace treaty was signed at the end of the conflict, and direct military talks between the two nations have been virtually nonexistent. Because South Korea is not a signatory to the Korean War armistice, direct military contacts usually happen between North Korean and U.S. or U.N. military personnel.
The talks were scheduled to focus on the naval clashes but could deal with any “military tension-reducing and confidence- building measures” the North Koreans chose to broach, said Brig. Gen. Nam Dae-yoon, a South Korean military spokesman.
South Korea’s five-man delegation, led by Rear Adm. Park Jung-hwa, traveled to the summit by crossing the Demilitarized Zone in vehicles. The North’s five-member delegation was headed up by army Maj. Gen. An Ik San, South Korean officials said.
In the North Korean military, a two-star general holds the equivalent rank of a one-star in the South Korean or U.S. militaries.
The meetings were scheduled to coincide with the beginning of crab fishing season; the recent naval skirmishes have been caused mainly by armed ships protecting fishing boats in disputed, crab-rich waters near the border. The last clash, in June 2002, left six South Korean sailors dead; the North’s casualties were believed to number more than 30 but never were confirmed.
But the timing of the talks also coincided with growing calls for South Korea to take its own diplomatic approach toward North Korea, instead of hewing to U.S. demands that the North dismantle its nuclear-weapons program before any concessions be made.
South Korea’s unification minister, Jeong Se-hyun, said at a business meeting last week in Seoul that the country remained committed to six-nation talks over the nuclear problem but that direct economic and military contact between the two nations was the course South Korea preferred.
Prospects for future sessions “are not so bad,” Jeong said before the talks.
The main goal of Wednesday’s meeting, he said, was simply to ensure the discussions would continue in the future. The next round of military-to-military talks are set for June 3 in South Korea.