N. Korea proposes halting all cross-border slander from Jan. 30 onwards

SEOUL, Jan. 16 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Thursday formally proposed halting all cross-border slander starting Jan. 30 and called for mutual action to prevent a nuclear calamity on the Korean Peninsula.

The North's powerful National Defense Commission (NDC) claimed that its "important proposal" clearly showed how Pyongyang wished to improve the frayed inter-Korean relations.

The message came a day after the communist country warned of an "unimaginable holocaust" if Seoul carried out the annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises from late February through April as scheduled.

"We call for realistic action to be taken to halt all slanderous exchanges to mark the Lunar New Year," the message carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

Lunar New Year's Day, celebrated by both Koreas, falls on Jan. 31 this year.

It also said that the North is proposing that all hostile military actions by both sides be stopped and urged the South Korean government to make a decision to call off the joint annual military exercises with the United States.

As a sign of good faith, the NDC said it will take the first step to stop raising tensions near the Seohae islands, or South Korean border islands in the Yellow Sea that have seen numerous military clashes in recent years. The five islands lie astride the sea demarcation line between the two Koreas, which Pyongyang has refused to recognize.

It said all sides must desist from carrying out land, sea and air military maneuvers that are hostile in nature. The committee, however, did not elaborate on what action it may undertake.

On the critical denuclearization issue, the North said it wants to propose measures that all interested parties can take to prevent a nuclear catastrophe from taking place.

"Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula remains the ultimate goal of the DPRK's military and people," the NDC argued. The DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.

It said the North Korean nuclear arsenal is nothing more than a deterrent against U.S. nuclear weapons and that it is not intended to threaten or harm other Koreans.

It then said Seoul should not engage in activities that can raise nuclear tensions on the peninsula.

The committee, moreover, said that if its plan is accepted, headway can be made in hosting reunions of families separated by the Korean War (1950-53), as well as progress in other outstanding issues.

The North has been lukewarm about the family reunions, and it called off scheduled family reunions last year at the last minute citing unfavorable conditions.

The NDC, meanwhile, said that the important statement is being made because it has been given the mandate by the government, the ruling political party and other various organizations.

Related to the statement, sources in Seoul said the North may be trying to gain an upper hand in inter-Korean negotiations after it rejected this month's call by the South to hold family reunions. Pyongyang's rejection of the reunion proposal was seen as a contrast to leader Kim Jong-un's earlier call for better cross-border relations in his New Year's address.

They pointed out that in the latest statement that the DPRK's stance of simultaneously pursuing economic growth while building up its nuclear force is a legitimate policy goal.

"This shows that they have not really given up their nuclear program," one Pyongyang watcher said.

Regarding the latest proposal to halt calumny, experts said defense ministries of the sides had agreed in 2004 to end propaganda activities along the military demarcation line, as well as to prevent military clashes in the Yellow Sea, off the west coast.

But war rhetoric from the North continued even after the agreement, with several verbal attacks lodged directly against the South Korean president. Furthermore, there have been several bloody clashes along the maritime border.

Meanwhile, South Korea's defense ministry said the North's latest proposal is nothing more than an attempt to justify their belligerent actions.

The ministry also made clear that the two joint military exercises will go on as planned.

"The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are not offensive exercises, "Defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told the Yonhap News Agency.

He also said that it is always the North that slanders the South and that Seoul does not engage in such actions.

Kim added that the North's proposal is something that the South will not accept and pointed out that Pyongyang is currently conducting winter military exercises of its own so it makes no sense for the South to call off its drills.

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