2 Koreas to open modernized military hot lines

AP News
Posted: Dec 22, 2009 9:10 AM

North and South Korea plan to open new, updated hot lines between their militaries next week to facilitate border crossings, an official said Tuesday.

The announcement reflected cooperation between the sides just a day after the North threatened South Korean ships with possible attacks. The hot lines serve as a key mode of communication between military officials from the two Koreas, which technically remain at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Crossings at the border mostly involve officials and workers from the South traveling to and from a joint industrial complex in the North.

The divided countries have nearly finished connecting fiber-optic cables across their heavily fortified border and will test the nine communication channels later this week before formally opening them next week, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said.

The move comes two months after the South provided the North with communication equipment and other materials to help its communist neighbor modernize the hot lines.

The fiber-optic cables will be laid near nine outdated copper cable hot lines, some of which the North cut off in 2008, citing technical problems, before restoring them, according to the ministry.

The communication lines are likely to "improve convenience of our people's border crossings," allowing the two Koreas to exchange information quickly and efficiently, Chun told reporters.

The industrial complex, which combines South Korean capital and technology with cheap North Korean labor, is the most prominent symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. About 110 South Korean factories employ some 40,000 North Korean workers there.

On Monday, the North threatened South Korean ships with possible attacks by designating a firing zone along their disputed sea border.

The western maritime boundary has long been considered a flash point between the two Koreas because the North does not recognize a line the United Nations unilaterally drew at the end of the Korean War. Pyongyang claims the actual border is farther south.

The dispute led to deadly skirmishes in 1999, 2002 and last month. In the latest clash, ships from the two sides exchanged fire in the disputed waters Nov. 10, leaving one North Korean sailor dead and three others wounded, according to the South.