(LEAD) (News Focus) Roh's view on inter-Korean sea border causes uproar |
SEOUL, Oct. 12 (Yonhap) -- War veterans and conservative forces here are up in arms over President Roh Moo-hyun's controversial remarks on the de-facto sea border between the two Koreas since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
The outspoken president sparked a fierce political debate Thursday, saying the Northern Limit Line (NLL) is not an official border, a long-standing claim by North Korea seeking to redraw its maritime border with the South.
"It was initially the operational red line of our military. So, it is misleading to say the NLL is a territorial line," Roh said Thursday while briefing parliamentary leaders on the results of his summit in Pyongyang last week with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
Roh was pointing out the historical background of the NLL, which was drawn unilaterally by the U.S.-led United Nations forces at the end of the Korean War after armistice negotiators failed to agree on a sea border. The NLL was intended to prevent armed conflict between the two Koreas by curbing the South's navy from operating north of the line as the name suggests.
Despite the historical facts, conservatives argue, Roh's perception of national security as the commander-in-chief of 680,000 troops is contrary to the current geopolitical situation.
Dozens of South Korean soldiers were killed in two bloody naval skirmishes in 1999 and 2002 when North Korean warships tried to violate the NLL.
The bereaved families of the soldiers called on the president to explain why their loved ones sacrificed their lives to protect the line if it is not a border, as he claims.
The main opposition Grand National Party also attacked Roh's remarks.
"The president needs to correct his angle on national security," GNP spokeswoman Na Kyung-won said.
South Korea's largest veterans group expressed worries over the future of the NLL.
"It is shocking and deplorable that the president made such inappropriate remarks," the Korea Veterans Association said in a statement.
It said Roh's comments are aimed at putting pressure on the military ahead of the defense ministerial talks between the two Koreas next month.
The defense chiefs' talks in Pyongyang are to follow up on the summit agreement that calls for the creation of a joint fishing area and the establishment of a broader special peace zone around the NLL which conservatives fear might undermine the status of the disputed line.
Critics say Roh is also attempting to influence the December presidential election by causing an ideological rift in South Korean society.
The military tried to remain guarded, at least officially, about the president's comments.
"One thing we can say at the moment is that the military has firmly defended the NLL, the effective sea border, for more than fifty years," Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-gi said. "The military will continue to defend it until the two Koreas agree on a new boundary."