Two Koreas hold historic meeting

The prime ministers of North and South Korea have held talks for the first time in 15 years and promised to implement a sweeping reconciliation pact signed by their leaders last month.


The North's Kim Yong-Il and his counterpart Han Duck-Soo are holding a three-day meeting on ways to implement the October 4 summit declaration by President Roh Moo-Hyun and the North's leader Kim Jong-Il.

The leaders had “made epoch-making agreements for peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula so we should see very good results at the meeting,” Han told Kim.

“We must make detailed and proper agreements in this round of talks and carry them out.”

Kim, whose brief includes reviving the North's crumbling command economy, agreed. “We should work together so that we can see achievements that the people and the whole world want,” he said.

At only the second-ever inter-Korean summit the two leaders agreed both on joint economic mega-projects costing billions of dollars, and on measures to ease tensions. The two countries have remained technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict.

The projects were expected to be the focus of this week's talks, with the North's 43-strong delegation including several figures experienced in economic cooperation but no military.

The prime ministers met in the same luxury Seoul hotel where their predecessors signed a 1992 accord calling for an end to decades of Cold War hostility. That went nowhere when the first crisis over the North's nuclear program erupted soon afterwards.

Last week North Korea for the first time began disabling its plutonium-producing nuclear programme. It is committed under a six-nation pact to full denuclearisation in exchange for aid and major diplomatic benefits.

“Our nation is now ushering in a rapidly changing era of peace and prosperity,” said a North Korean arrival statement, referring to both Koreas.

The North's economy shrank an estimated 1.1 percent last year, according to South Korea's central bank. It still relies on foreign food aid to feed millions of its people.

South Korea sees joint developments like the flagship Kaesong industrial estate as a way to narrow the huge wealth gap in preparation for any eventual reunification.

One of its priorities this week will be setting up a joint fishing area around the disputed Yellow Sea border — a prelude to establishing a “peace zone” to avoid a repetition of bloody naval clashes in 1999 and 2002.

This, the summit declaration says, would include the development of a special economic zone around the North's southwestern port of Haeju.

The North refuses to recognise the current sea border. The tricky question of which areas the fishing zone will cover is likely to be left to defence ministers' talks in Pyongyang late this month.

The South stressed that the peace zone “would be a very important project which would secure peace through economic cooperation,” Unification Minister Lee Jae-Joung told reporters, describing the closed-door talks as friendly.

The two sides also discussed the construction of joint shipbuilding districts in the North and the upgrading of its crumbling railways and roads.

Lee said the South also pressed the North to resolve the cases of hundreds of abductees or former prisoners of war whom Seoul says are still held in the communist state.

He said the North's delegation made no particular response.

Hundreds of riot police guarded the hotel and dragged away five protesters.

In the streets outside some 70 others burned North Korean flags and pictures of Kim Jong-Il.