NORTH, SOUTH KOREAN NAVIES TALK BY RADIO


2004.06.14
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SEOUL-In a historic exchange, the navies of North and South Korea have exchanged messages in the first radio contact between active military units since the 1950-53 Korean War, RFA's Korean service reports.

"Baekdu-san one, Baekdu-san one, this is Halla-san one. Please come forward," a South Korean sailor shouted into his radio, at 9 a.m. local time (0100 GMT) Monday, just off Yeonpyeong Island, 230 kms west of here.

Almost immediately, the reply came back: "This is Baekdu-san one, Roger," sounded the voice of a North Korean navy radio operator. The code-names were chosen for the highest mountain peaks in the two Koreas?Baekdu in the North and Halla in the South.

Following the brief radio exchange, flag and flash signals also penetrated the morning sea-haze in the 900 meters of hotly disputed seawater between them. When a South Korean sailor raised a No. 4 flag in the international maritime code to signal the South's non-hostile intentions, his North Korean counterpart hoisted a No. 9 flag, a signal that shows understanding of the message from the other side.

Several more radio exchanges were scheduled for Monday, the South Korean Yonhap news agency reported from the Yeonpyeong Island area.

The moves are part of an agreement signed between the militaries of the two sides on June 4 detailing a series of tension-reducing measures, including the removal of all propaganda tools along the land border between the two sides.

The agreement also requires the two navies to share a radio frequency, use the same flag- and flash-signal systems, and exchange information about suspected poaching activities by any third country.

The two sides also agreed to open a permanent telephone hotline between their naval headquarters on Aug. 12. Until then, they will use a commercial cross-border telephone line to communicate.

A long-running disagreement over the maritime border off the west coast of the divided peninsula has been the cause of many naval clashes that have killed or wounded dozens on both sides.

The line in the Yellow Sea runs through rich fishing grounds that have been the scene of naval gunfights in past years, especially during crab-fishing season.

When the Korean War ended, the maritime border was not demarcated. The American-led U.N.Command unilaterally set a border there, which North Korea has never recognized, arguing that the real border should be further south.

A 103-member North Korean civilian delegation arrived in South Korea by plane later Monday to attend a series of programs marking the fourth anniversary of the inter-Korean summit, including a marathon race and an academic seminar. #####

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