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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 May, 2004, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
Koreas hold rare defence talks
By Charles Scanlon
BBC correspondent in Seoul

South Korea's delegation leader Rear Adm Park Jung-hwa, right, shakes hands with unidentified North Korean
Talks lasted for more than three hours
Senior military officers from North and South Korea have held rare talks in a bid to reduce tension on the world's most heavily fortified border.

The North agreed to study proposals to improve communication between their armed forces, and the two sides agreed to talk again next month.

South Korea hopes to reduce the danger of renewed naval skirmishes and to build trust with Pyongyang.

The North's agreement to talk is seen as a major concession to the South.

In the past, it insisted on dealing directly with the US military, which has more than 37,000 troops stationed near the border. Pyongyang has described South Korea as a puppet state.

But political and economic ties have improved in recent years, and the South is intent on adding military context to the relationship.

Seoul's requests

The South Korean military delegation went north with specific proposals to reduce the risk of armed clashes.

Known as Northern Limit Line
Position declared by UN in 1953
Not recognised by North
Regularly breached by North's fishermen

It proposed the establishment of hotlines between military commanders to reduce the risk of clashes, and agreements on radio frequencies and signals for the navies.

The South Korean Government is concerned about renewed naval clashes off the west coast, as the lucrative crab fishing season gets under way.

Both sides have suffered losses in recent years, as gunboats try to protect their fishing fleets.

The South Korean officers did not get the agreement they wanted, but the North agreed to consider their requests and meet again early next month.

It also made a counter-proposal for the two sides to reduce provocative propaganda.

The generals did not discuss North Korea's development of nuclear weapons.

Separate international talks on the nuclear issue have made little progress, with the United States trying to build a regional front to put more pressure on North Korea.

The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"South Korea is anxious to build as much trust and goodwill as it can"

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