2ND LD: N., S. Korea agree to remove threats of war

2ND LD: N., S. Korea agree to remove threats of war

CHEJU ISLAND, South Korea, Sept. 26 Kyodo

(EDS: UPDATING WITH MORE DETAILS)

The defense ministers of North and South Korea agreed Tuesday to work together to remove threats of war to sustain ”everlasting peace on the Korean Peninsula” during two days of talks held for the first time since the 1950-53 Korean War.

”The two sides agreed to make joint efforts to remove threats of war in a common understanding that easing military tensions and sustain everlasting peace on the Korean Peninsula is a crucial matter,” the two countries said in a five-point joint statement.

The two sides also agreed to hold a second round of defense ministers’ talks in mid-November in a yet undecided place in North Korea, according to the statement.

It is widely expected the two sides will continue to discuss practical measures at the next round of talks, aimed at further relaxing military tensions and building confidence.

South Korean Defense Minister Cho Sung Tae and North Korea’s People’s Armed Forces Minister Kim Il Chol each led five-member delegations at the talks held at a hotel in southern Cheju Island.

Lt. Gen. Kim Hee Sang who attended the talks as the South’s deputy delegate, said, ”The key importance (of the defense ministers’ talks) lies in the fact that the highest-level military leadership (of the two Koreas) finally sat down together after 50 years of hostilities.”

After announcing the press statement, Kim stressed the importance of the top military leaderships’ agreement to work together to remove threats of war.

”There will be no future at all for the Korean people (in North and South Korea) without peace,” said Kim, who is president of the National Defense College.

”In an effort to achieve everlasting peace, the highest-level military leaders (between the two Koreas) should build confidence and strengthen their friendship,” Kim said, adding the two defense ministers ”just started a constructive mission” toward those goals.

The top-level military dialogue between the two Koreas has been hailed as one of the most important inter-Korean contacts since the unprecedented inter-Korean June summit in Pyongyang between South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

During their June 13-15 summit, the two Korean leaders signed a joint declaration on June 15, pledging to work together for national reconciliation and eventual reunification on the peninsula that was divided in 1945.

The Korean summit has produced a surprising thaw in bilateral relations between the two Koreas, prompting a flurry of official and private inter-Korean contacts.

At the defense ministers’ talks, the two sides also agreed to ”maximize their efforts for the implementation of the June 15 declaration” and also to cooperate at the military level to promote civilian exchanges between the two Koreas.

At their talks, the two sides agreed to hold a working-level meeting in early October to discuss details on reconnecting the severed sectors of the cross-border Kyonguisun railway and building a highway alongside it, according to the statement.

The Kyonguisun railway links Seoul and the city of Sinuiju close to the Chinese border in western North Korea, but currently it is severed at the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas.

The railway and associated road construction work require close military cooperation between the two Koreas as it is to be carried out in the demilitarized zone, which is strewn with land mines that will have to be removed.

The two sides agreed to allow personnel, vehicles and other equipment to carry out railway and road construction in the demilitarized zone, the statement said.

The two sides also agreed to respect the current armistice agreement that put an end to their fighting 47 years ago, with regard to detailed matters on the construction of the Kyonguisun railway and an adjacent road.

South Korea held a ground-breaking ceremony on Sept. 18 to start work on restoring the 12-kilometer broken section of the 486-km railway.

Restoring the Kyonguisun railway is the centerpiece of a package of agreements reached during inter-Korean ministerial talks held July 29 and 30 in Seoul to implement the accord reached at the inter-Korean summit.

The North Korean delegation is scheduled to pay a courtesy call on President Kim at the Blue House presidential office later in the day after flying into the South Korean capital aboard a South Korean Air Force airplane.

The North Korean delegation is then to return home through the truce village of Panmunjom.

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