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2009/06/29 11:43 KST
Peace, stability only possible after N. Korea denuclearizes: S. Korea

By Sam Kim
SEOUL, June 29 (Yonhap) -- Peace and stability can only be fostered after North Korea completely dismantles its nuclear weapons programs, South Korea's prime minister said Monday during a ceremony commemorating a 2002 naval clash with the communist state.

   "Peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia can only be promoted through the denuclearization" of the peninsula, Han Seung-soo said, according to a transcript released by his office.

   South Korea has not held nuclear arms since the early 1990s, when the United States withdrew its tactical nuclear weapons from the Asian ally in an effort to nudge the North toward denuclearization.

Since then, North Korea has conducted two known nuclear tests -- in October 2006 and on May 25 this year. It has test-fired scores of missiles and appears to be preparing to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile from its west coast.

   The North has also withdrawn from six-nation talks that offered aid in return for the North's nuclear dismantlement, and has expelled international monitors from its main nuclear facilities.

   "We can never tolerate North Korea's nuclear development," Han said.

   "It is actively unleashing blunt rhetoric that warns of an armed provocation," he added, calling the 2002 naval battle between the two countries a South Korean victory.

   South Korea had refrained from calling the battle -- in which six South Koreans were killed -- a victory for its side. Criticism lingered until last year that the government was avoiding the term to due fears it could hurt ties ties, under a policy that prioritized reconciliation with North Korea.

   Following the inauguration of the new conservative administration in February last year, it has increasingly been stressed by government officials and the right wing that the battle ended with greater North Korean casualties.

   "It is a battle in which our Navy fought and won against North Korea's surprise attack," Han said, calling for greater efforts to reassess the incident.

   Another battle also took place near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the de facto maritime border between the Koreas, in the Yellow Sea in 1999. No South Koreans were killed in that skirmish, though the North is believed to have suffered dozens of casualties.

   Tension has been running high near the NLL since North Korea, which says the border should be drawn further south, repeatedly warned of an armed conflict there this year.

   South and North Korea remain technically at war, as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.