Tuesday, 29 March 2011

North and South Korea agree to joint volcano research

South Korean delegate Yoo In-chang (R) shakes hand with North Korean delegate Yun Yong-geun
Source: Korea Herald

North and South Korea held talks at the South Korean border town of Munsan on Tuesday 29th March about setting up a joint study on the volcanic threat emanating from Mount Baekdu.

Tensions between the neighbours are higher than they've been for decades, and military talks in February collapsed. As such, the talks at Munsan were a highly anticipated opportunity for dialogue, and seem to have been successful.

The two sides did not agree on a date for the next round of talks, although the North suggested early April, and the South is expected to respond soon.

The earthquake in Japan seems to have prompted the discussion, and both sides seem to have accepted that potential damage both sides face from natural disasters. Head of the North Korean delegation Yun Yong-geun told his South Korean counterparts “We had underground water fluctuating by 60cm and muddy spring water after the Japanese quake.”

“We no longer can be fully sure about anything when it comes to meteorological occurrences,” he said in the first few minutes of the meeting, which was open to media.

Yun said that Pyongyang was actively looking for signs of radiation reaching the North, while Seoul has already detected traces of fallout from the Fukushima nuclear plant, but has said the amounts are too small to pose risks.

Pyongyang proposed the talks after Japan's earthquake and while Seoul downgraded them from government to expert level, they are still significant. South Korean unification minister Hyun In-taek said last week that joint research could develop into a 'whole new level' of inter-Korean cooperation, according to the Korea Times.

Mount Baekdu has not erupted since 1903, but it is believed to have an active core. Located on the North Korea-China border, it is the highest mountain on the Korean peninsula, standing at 2,744m. Concerns over the mountain have persisted since 2002, when a magnitude 7.3 earthquake hit northeastern China. The mountain is considered a sacred symbol of ancestry by both sides, and the BBC reports that North Korea says its leader Kim Jong-Il was born there.

Experts have warned that an eruption could pose widespread problems for both sides, and so Seoul agreed to the talks out of fear of another regional disaster.

While China and North Korea have called for the resumption of six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear programme, Seoul has said it first requires an apology for what it calls two acts of aggression by the North.

Seoul holds Pyongyang responsible for the sinking of a warship, the Cheonan, in March last year, although Pyongyang has denied involvement. Seoul also wants an apology for the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last November, but Pyongyang says it was provoked.

Sources: BBC News, Korea Herald, Korea Times

For more information, please see the Menas Borders website, here.

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