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(LEAD) S. Korea denies report on likely re-negotiation of inter-Korean sea border

All Headlines 14:49 September 13, 2007

(ATTN: UPDATES with presidential aide's comments in last 4 paras)

SEOUL, Sept. 13 (Yonhap) -- A controversy erupted again on Thursday over whether South Korea plans to address the disputed sea border with North Korea at their summit next month, as a major daily here reported that the Defense Ministry has asked for the opinion of the United Nations Command (UNC) on the matter.

The Chosun Ilbo said the ministry recently inquired about the UNC's position on the possible replacement of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), which has served as a provisional yet de-facto inter-Korean sea border for decades.

The NLL was drawn up by the UNC at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War after it failed to reach an agreement with North Korea on a sea border between the two Koreas.

In a 1999 press release, the UNC said that, "The NLL has served as an effective means of preventing military tension between North and South Korean military forces for 46 years. It serves as a practical demarcation line, which has contributed to the separation of forces."

The UNC has yet to clarify whether its position has changed. "We are still reviewing the media report," Kim Yong-kyu, a UNC spokesman said.

The Defense Ministry largely denied the report, but in a rather ambiguous manner.

"We did not seek the UNC's opinion on the NLL," ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-gi said. "We only inquired as to whether its 1999 position that a new sea border needs to be discussed bilaterally between the two Koreas still holds." The inquiry was aimed at preparing for a parliamentary inspection session, not the summit, he added.

The NLL issue has been a frequent deal-breaker in inter-Korean military talks, with North Korea calling for a formal inter-Korean sea border before discussions on other defense issues.

South Korea wants to discuss the issue in defense ministerial talks after handling some other matters at general-level negotiations.

A key aide to President Roh Moo-hyun said the NLL issue may be touched on in Roh's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il slated for Oct. 2-4 in Pyongyang.

"Whether it is wanted or not, there is a possibility that the NLL issue will be raised at the summit," Moon Jae-in, the presidential chief of staff, told a parliamentary committee.

Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung also said, "All pending issues including the North Korean nuclear crisis will be discussed at the summit." But he refused to say whether the NLL issue would be adopted as a formal agenda item.

The main opposition Grand National Party is staunchly opposed to any negotiations on the matter related to what it says is territorial sovereignty.


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