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South, North reconnect military hotline at sea

July 02,2018
The two Koreas restored a maritime communication channel for the first time in a decade on Sunday in another show of cooperation between the two countries after their leaders signed a landmark declaration in April committing to reconciliation.

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense said a naval patrol boat near Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea contacted a North Korean patrol boat at 9 a.m. on Sunday via an international radio channel. The North Korean boat responded immediately, the ministry said.

Both Koreas used to contact each other through the maritime hotline from 2004 to 2008 until the North suddenly stopped responding. The ministry said in a statement that the decision to reopen the line was part of efforts to implement the Panmunjom Declaration and agreements made during the last round of general-level military talks.

In the Panmunjom Declaration, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un vowed to make joint efforts to alleviate “acute military tension” on the Korean Peninsula, while completely ceasing all hostile acts against each other in “every domain, including land, air and sea.”

At a generals’ meeting on June 14, both Koreas agreed to restore several military communication channels to support naval traffic and prevent armed clashes, especially in waters west of the peninsula where the two countries have drawn different maritime border lines.

Citing unnamed government officials, Yonhap reported on Sunday that the South Korean military has suspended renovation plans for army bases within 5 to 10 kilometers (3 to 6 miles) of the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas.

The military intended to build new barracks and improve artillery positions, the officials said. Future military construction projects near the border will be subject to negotiation among relevant government agencies, they added.

In the Panmunjom Declaration, both Koreas also agreed to “transform the demilitarized zone into a peace zone.” As a follow-up, the South removed frontline loudspeakers that blared K-pop and propaganda into North Korea in early May. Local military officials said the North appeared to have also removed its loudspeakers shortly afterward, though the regime never officially acknowledged it.

The South Korean government has also tried to dissuade local civic groups from sending leaflets across the border that criticize Kim and has deployed police to the scene when they refused to comply.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]