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Military committee details emerge

Sept 27,2018
A committee of military officers from both Koreas will likely be led by a vice minister-level official from the South and deputy director-level official from the North, government sources in Seoul said last week.

The committee, which leaders of the two Koreas agreed to establish at their summit on Sept. 19, is expected to discuss military issues between the two countries, namely the formation of a so-called peace zone in the disputed border in the Yellow Sea, the sources said last Friday on the condition of anonymity.

An official in the Ministry of National Defense said lower-level officials from both Koreas tentatively agreed last August to iron out specifics for the peace zone once the committee launches.

The committee’s formalities are based on the 1992 South-North Basic Agreement, which made stipulations for reconciliation and cooperation between the two countries, another South Korean government source said. A joint military committee never came into fruition then, but the agreement explained that the committee should basically meet once every quarter or more frequently if both Koreas wish.

The spirit of the committee, sources said, was based on a military agreement that both countries’ defense ministers signed in 2007. At the time, the ministers agreed to establish a joint military committee and said both countries should use the forum to discuss trust-building measures and conditions to prevent maritime conflicts. The joint committee was never formed back then, either.

It remains to be seen whether the two Koreas will finally reach common ground on their disputed maritime border. At their first summit in April, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed in the Panmunjom Declaration to “devise a practical scheme” to turn the areas around the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Yellow Sea into a maritime peace zone in order to prevent military clashes and guarantee safe fishing activity.

The NLL has long been a thorny issue between the two Koreas. Pyongyang argues it was unilaterally drawn by the U.S.-led United Nations Command after the end of the 1950-53 Korean War and claims the line should be redrawn further south.

After the April summit, both Koreas held several meetings with high-level and low-level officials to flesh out agreements in the Panmunjom Declaration, but the peace zone issue remained a sticky one.

In the latest meeting between low-level military officials on Sept. 14, South Korea suggested to the North that they create a buffer zone near the NLL that bans both countries’ vessels from entering, military sources in Seoul said. The South Korean military conveyed that the measure was needed before they could transform the area into a peace zone.

But the North was said to have shown a “lukewarm response” to this because accepting Seoul’s offer could mean that it acknowledges the NLL. Moon and Kim ultimately agreed to making a 135-kilometer (83.8 miles) buffer zone in the Yellow Sea last week during their third summit, in which artillery fire drills and field training exercises will be prohibited by either side.

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