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Friday, December 14, 2007

Koreas fail to agree on fishing zone

PANMUNJOM, South Korea (Reuters) - Generals from the rival Koreas, their talks marred earlier by a shoving match, failed on Friday to reach a deal on a joint fishing zone in their disputed waters off the west coast of the peninsula.

The two sides, technically still at war, bickered throughout their three-day meeting on where to set up a Yellow Sea fishing zone and how big it should be.

"The two sides haven't reached a deal but have agreed to continue discussions," a Seoul Defence Ministry official said of the meeting at the Panmunjom truce village, which lies inside a buffer zone dividing the peninsula.

Defence ministers had failed in late November to agree on the extent of the fishing zone to encompass a maritime boundary known as the Northern Limit Line (NLL).

The NLL was set unilaterally by U.N.-led forces after the 1950-53 Korean War and Seoul's military recognised it as the de facto sea border. Pyongyang declared the line invalid in 1999.

North Korea wants its fishing vessels to be able to travel well south of the line and rejects Seoul's proposal for a small, pilot area to either side of the NLL that would be open to fishermen from both countries.

On Thursday, military officers taking part in the Panmunjom talks shoved each other after the North tried to put on a slide show to explain its ideas for the zone's location. South Korean officers tried to stop what they considered to be a propaganda exercise.

The leaders of the two Koreas agreed at a rare summit in October to set up the zone to reduce tensions. The states are technically still at war because the Korean War combatants never signed a peace treaty.

Dozens of sailors from both Koreas died in clashes across the NLL in 1999 and 2002.
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