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North Korean Merchant Ships Crossed NLL

Posted June. 04, 2001 10:44,   


Heated controversies continue in the military and the political circles after the North Korean merchant ship Cheongjin 2 (13000 tons), one of three NK ships that had intruded into the Cheju Straits without permission on May 2-3, returned to Haeju yesterday, passing across the NLL nearby YeonPyong Island in the West Sea.

Another North Korean merchant ship, heading toward the Cheju Straits, invaded the South`s territory around 20 km West away from the Soheuksan Island in the afternoon yesterday. And the ROK military mobilized the fast patrol boats of the Navy and the Korea National Maritime Police Agency.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff headquarters announced that Cheongjin No. 2 had detoured toward Haeju about 80 km west-south from the Socheong Island in the West Sea and crossed the NLL between Baikryong Island and Yeonpyong Island on 11:05 p.m. and later arrived at the Haeje harbor about 2 o¡¯clock a.m. on the following day. It is first time for the North Korean cargo vessel to cross the NLL in the West Sea. The North Korean commercial ships used to return to the North by detouring the NLL nearby Baikryong Island.

When Cheongjin No. 2 headed to the North from the southern area of the NLL in the West Sea, the ROK navy warships, which were on a surveillance operation 2-3 km away from the North Korean ship, warned the ship to detour through the northern outside of the Baikryong Island. However, the NK cargo vessel ignored the warning and returned to the Northern area.

A high official of the Defense Ministry remarked, ``In the spirit of the June 15 joint South-North Declaration, we allowed North Korean cargo ships to sail through the Cheju Strait and to cross the NLL on their way home this time.``

The government is to allow the North Korean commercial vessels to cross the NLL when they notify in advance and request the permission. A related source of the government revealed that the National Security Council (NSC) agreed on the government-level re-examination for the North Korean commercial ships crossing the NLL when the North notifies in advance or requests the permission.

However, the new consideration of the government is directly opposed to the position of the Military, which holds the NLL as the military demarcation line on the sea. In addition, Cheongjin No. 2 followed along the route of the maritime military demarcation line that the North unilaterally announced 1999.

Rep. Park Se-Hwan of the Grand National Party criticized, ``Following the rule of engagement, the military should have stopped or seized the North Korean merchant ships, which had intentionally intruded into our territorial waters.`` Rep. Yoo Sam-Nam also said that the political response to the territorial intrusion equals to the disarmament of the national security.

Defense Minister Kim Dong-Shin replied that, since our fast patrol boat were much smaller than the North Korean cargo ships, we should have utilized the military forces to stop them. ``It was very complicated situation not only militarily but also diplomatically. So, [I ordered] the military to prepare for the operation and to have an approval of the Defense Minister [before taking action].``

Defense Minister Kim said, ``When recurring such an incident, [the military] is to apply strictly the rule of engagement.``

Lee Chol-Hi klimt@donga.com