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Koreas agree to military hotline

The two Koreas have fought gunbattles along the disputed maritime border.
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SEOUL, South Korea -- North and South Korea have agreed to set up a military hotline in a step towards easing tensions along their heavily fortified border.

The two sides said Friday they will also end loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts along the border, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

Military generals from the two sides have been meeting at the resort of Mount Seorak in South Korea to explore ways of avoiding accidental clashes.

The meeting is an extension of one-day talks on May 26 and is the highest-level military dialogue since the end of fighting on the Korean peninsula in 1953.

North and South Korea have been divided for more than 50 years, but have taken a number of steps recently towards a less-hostile relationship.

Still, the world's last remaining Cold War frontier remains a dangerous and heavily armed place, and the communist North's nuclear weapons ambitions continues to cast a pall over reconciliation moves.

A new round of six-party talks to discuss the North's nuclear program will take place in Beijing on June 23-25, Yonhap said Thursday, quoting an unidentified source in Seoul.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon earlier said the talks would take place before the end of June.

The last round of talks, involving China, Russia, Japan, the United States and the two Koreas, were held in Beijing in February but were inconclusive.

A key part of this week's military meeting has been to look at ways to avoid naval conflicts along the disputed maritime border during the May-June crab catching season.

At this time of the year, fishing boats from the two Koreas jostle for position along the poorly marked maritime border.

The Koreas fought deadly naval gunbattles there in 1999 and 2002, both in June. The South recognizes a border demarcated by the United Nations, but the North claims a boundary farther south.

Military generals first met on Wednesday May 26 at the resort of Mount Kumgang, on the northern side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). After an inconclusive meeting, they agreed to talk again this week at the Mount Seorak resort, south of the DMZ.

The world's most heavily fortified border bisects the Korean peninsula and separates nearly two million troops.

The Koreas are still technically at war because the 1950-53 war ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The two Korean militaries seldom hold talks, although they have expanded economic and political ties in recent years.

South Korean officials have said they hope it will be the start of regular talks between the two sides.

But the North has typically rejected the South's call for high-level military talks, allowing only colonels to meet and limiting their discussions to economic exchanges.

North Korea has the world's fifth-largest army with about 1.1 million active forces while South Korea has the sixth-largest military in the world, with 690,000 troops.

Pyongyang, which U.S. President George W. Bush in 2002 labeled part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran, is believed to have processed enough nuclear fuel to manufacture several nuclear weapons.

North Korea has said it will freeze its nuclear program as a first step in resolving the dispute, but only if the United States lifts sanctions, resumes oil shipments and removes the nation from its list of countries sponsoring terrorism.

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