Koreas Battle Over Airspace

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - South Korea on Friday urged North
Korea to retract its threat against South Korean passenger planes
flying near its airspace, condemning it as unjustifiable and

South Korea also said it is taking measures to secure the safety
of its airlines. South Korea's two major airlines - Korean Air and
Asiana Airlines - have already rerouted their flights to stay clear
of North Korean airspace.

"The military threat against civil airplanes' normal flights is
a violation of international norms and an inhumane act that cannot
be justified under any circumstances," Unification Ministry
spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon told reporters.

The reaction came a day after the North warned it cannot
guarantee security for South Korean civil airplanes flying near its
airspace and accused the U.S. and South Korea of attempting to
provoke a nuclear war with the upcoming joint military drills.

The North is "compelled to declare that security cannot be
guaranteed for South Korean civil airplanes flying through the
territorial air of our side and its vicinity ... while the military
exercises are under way," the North's Committee for the Peaceful
Reunification of the Fatherland said Thursday in statement carried
by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

It did not say what kind of danger South Korean planes would
face or whether the threat means the North would shoot down planes.

Kim indicated the North's latest warning may be an advance
notice to clear the airspace before a possible missile launch but
he declined to elaborate.

North Korea announced last week that it is preparing to send a
communications satellite into space but regional powers suspect the
claim is a cover for the launch of a long-range missile capable of
reaching Alaska.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said
North Korea's statement was "distinctly unhelpful." He said North
Korea should be working on ways to fulfill its disarmament
commitments in international nuclear talks "rather than making
statements that are threatening to peaceful aviation."

Also Friday, senior military officials from North Korea and the
U.S.-led U.N. Command in South Korea met at the border but the
talks ended in less than an hour, U.N. command spokesman Kim
Yong-kyu said without elaborating.

The talks - the second such talks between the two sides this
week - came ahead of U.S.-South Korean military drills and amid
concerns the North is preparing to test-fire a long-range ballistic

The North, which condemns the drills as preparations for an
invasion, reportedly demanded that Washington call off the
exercises at previous talks earlier this week.

But the U.S. military said it would go ahead with the drills
involving 26,000 U.S. troops, an unspecified number of South Korean
soldiers and a U.S. aircraft carrier. Both Washington and Seoul
insist the annual exercises are purely defensive.

Generals from the North summoned U.S. military officers
representing the U.N. Command to the Demilitarized Zone on Monday -
their first talks in nearly seven years - but the talks ended
without progress. The U.N. Command oversees the cease-fire that
ended the 1950-1953 Korean War.

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