South Korea rethinks line drawn in sea with North
Fresh from a summit designed to bring the two Koreas closer, South Korea's president has touched off a furious debate about the line that divides them.
President Roh Moo-hyun was upbraided by former generals, lawmakers and the media for questioning last week whether a naval border drawn at the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War counted as a legal boundary between the two states, technically still at war.
The border off the west coast called the Northern Limit Line has gone from being a contested zone for crab fisherman into a region of deadly conflict.
It was set unilaterally by U.N.-led forces at the end of the Korean War and recognized since then by the South's military as the de facto border. Pyongyang declared the line invalid in 1999.
"The NLL was originally drawn as the operational limit line for our military. So, even though some people now call it a territorial line, that is misleading," Roh told reporters on Thursday.
Earlier this month at only the second summit of the states forged at the start of the Cold War, he proposed to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il an economic cooperation zone off their west coast.
Critics say blurring the legality of the NLL compromises the South's territory and insults the country's soldiers who died defending it. Dozens of sailors from both Koreas have been killed in naval clashes in 1999 and 2002 over the line.
"This a grave matter, which could be grounds for impeachment," the mainstream daily JoongAng Ilbo wrote in a weekend editorial, and charged Roh, who has about four months left in office, of "border betrayal." ( Reuters )