North and South Korea have discussed the status of gunports on coastal artilleries and the broadcasting of warning messages to ships near the disputed western maritime border, the ROK Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced on Tuesday.
The discussion came about because the two Koreas agreed in September to close the gunports of all coastal artilleries within designated coastal zones of the peninsula, as well as to create a “maritime peace zone” on the west coast that makes warning broadcasts unnecessary.
Despite the agreement, South Korean broadcaster SBS said it understood that the gunports of North Korean coastal artilleries in secluded locations on the west coast were still open, citing an unnamed government source.
In addition, Pyongyang has reportedly also continued broadcasting warning calls towards South Korean vessels, insisting they adhere to a western maritime border defined by the DPRK side that is different from the so-called Northern Limit Line (NLL) proposed by the South.
When asked if Seoul had received any response from Pyongyang regarding the status of its gunports and ongoing warning broadcasts, MND spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo said: “It is difficult to raise this issue time-after-time, but we continue consultations with the North.”
But Choi stopped short of confirming the local media reporting about either the gunports or the broadcasts.
The MND “has had a discussion over implementation of agreements with the North whenever an occasion arises, through means including fax and contact, since both (sides) halted hostile acts towards each other on November 1,” the spokesperson said.
“We will continuously observe and verify (these) implementations so that the North can faithfully fulfill the military agreement of September 19.”
The question mark over DPRK implementation of the September agreement is not the first time that controversy has arisen over the North’s willingness to implement its side of the deal, however.
A gunport of a coastal artillery piece on the Gaemori coast – where Pyongyang fired shells towards Yeonpyeong Island in 2010 – were detected by South Korean authorities to be open in November, for example.
Army Col. Roh Jae-cheon, spokesperson for the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), said on November 5 that one gunport of a coastal artillery had been left open on the Gaemori coast.
Furthermore, local media reported the JCS said in October it was aware of North Korean warships warning South Korean vessels from crossing the demarcation line some 21 times between July and September.
The ROK MND said on Tuesday, however, that it does not think the developments were demonstrative of a low-level willingness of the DPRK to adhere to the NLL.
“With regard to this issue, there has been almost no case of North Korea crossing the NLL,” Choi continued.
Conflicts in the area have continued over the years, in what the North often describes as the “hot spot waters in the West Sea.”
Among other incidents, these clashes have resulted in the two battles of Yeonpyeong in 1999 and 2002, respectively, as well as the sinking of ROK warship the Cheonan and bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island by the North in 2010.
The two Koreas have recently proceeded with implementation of the September inter-Korean military agreement despite ongoing controversy over the western maritime border.
Seoul and Pyongyang completed a 35-day field survey on Saturday on the shared use of the Han/Imjin River Estuary – aimed at ensuring the safe navigation of civilian vessels and issuing a nautical plan of the waters.
And North and South Korean militaries are scheduled Wednesday to conduct an on-site mutual verification of the 20 guard posts (GPs) recently demolished along the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
Meanwhile, the South’s JCS on Tuesday also rejected media reports claiming that Washington and Seoul were considering changing the title of annual joint drills and removing the word ‘combined’ from them.
“The ROK and the U.S. have been coordinating on issues, including a plan for conducting ROK-U.S. joint drills,” JCS spokesperson Roh Jae-cheon said, adding the consultation aims to support diplomatic efforts of the two governments to advance the denuclearization process.
“We have been reviewing the title of next year’s annual joint exercises in line with this, but … the removal of the word ‘combined’ has neither been confirmed nor reviewed.”
Roh added that Washington and Seoul had not yet examined the issue of changing the title in detail, denying media report that the designation of annual drills would be 19-1, for instance.
Edited by Chad O’Carroll
Featured Image: Republic of Korea Armed Forces
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