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(LEAD) Koreas set to link modern military hot lines: officials

All Headlines 12:06 December 22, 2009

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout; ADDS background)
By Sam Kim

SEOUL, Dec. 22 (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea were poised Tuesday to link their military hot lines they have been working to modernize, an official in Seoul said, just a day after Pyongyang raised tension by declaring the western sea border its firing zone.

Construction aimed at linking the optical cable lines began on Dec. 1 and is expected to end later Tuesday, Moon Sang-gyoon, an official at the Ministry of National Defense, told reporters.

The sides, technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, plan to test the lines on the west and east coasts on Thursday and Friday, Moon said.

"They should formally open next week," he said, adding officials from the two countries will meet later this week to put the finishing touches on the modernization efforts.

The modernization of the lines comes amid tension on the Yellow Sea border where North Korea announced Monday it will go ahead with routine firing exercises.

The navies of the two countries exchanged gunfire in the area last month for the first time in about seven years.

On Oct. 22, South Korea provided North Korea with optical cables and other equipment worth 950 million won (US$819,000) to replace worn-out communications lines running through their heavily armed land border.

Moon said the lines, which will be connected to a phone and a fax, should make it easier for the Koreas to exchange information concerning personnel engaged in inter-Korean activities.

Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung also said the renovation "is expected to be completed today" on both sides of the demilitarized zone and that the lines will become effective next week after pilot tests.

The inter-Korean military lines are used to issue permission for South Korean citizens traveling to and from North Korea.

Lines across the west-side of the border are mostly used for those commuting to the South Korean-run industrial complex in the North's border town of Kaesong, while the east-side lines are used for Hyundai Asan Corp. staff traveling to the Mount Kumgang resort on the east coast. With the mountain tours now suspended, Hyundai keeps a small staff there to maintain the closed resort facilities.

The renovations were agreed upon in 2007 but had been put on hold after political relations soured following the inauguration of Seoul's conservative administration last year.

samkim@yna.co.kr
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