Wednesday, June 16, 1999

Korean shootout in
the Yellow Sea

Bullet The issue: North and South Korean naval craft skirmished in a disputed area of the Yellow Sea.
Bullet Our view: The conflict must be defused to prevent its escalation into war.

SINCE taking office as president of South Korea last year, former dissident Kim Dae-jung has tried to soften his government's policy toward North Korea. But Kim has had little success in easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The violent confrontation at sea between North and South Korean patrol craft demonstrates that the relationship between the two Koreas is still volatile nearly half a century after the Korean War.

One northern vessel has been sunk and five others damaged in a clash in the Yellow Sea. About 30 North Korean sailors are believed dead and seven South Koreans wounded.

There is a danger that the conflict could escalate. The United States and other concerned governments must exert pressure on North and South to back off.

The clash occurred in a contested zone off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula.

The armistice that ended the Korean War never outlined the maritime border off the west coast. The U.N. Command unilaterally demarcated the sea frontier in 1953 and created a buffer zone south of it to avoid clashes.

North Korea has contested the sea border since the late 1970s, sending fishing boats and naval ships into the zone 20 to 30 times a year. When challenged by South Korean patrol craft, they usually have withdrawn. Not this time.

The current clash is the latest in a long series of incidents on both land and sea. North Korea seems to periodically test the limits by sending infiltrators into South Korea, sometimes by submarine, and firing at South Korean soldiers across the demilitarized zone separating the two countries.

The United States recently sent former Defense Secretary William Perry to Pyongyang in an attempt to establish a basis for improved relations. The current incident suggests that the visit didn't make much of an impression on North Korea's secretive leaders.

Washington is particularly concerned about the regime's efforts to manufacture nuclear weapons and struck a deal in 1994 to get North Korea to freeze such activity. But suspicion persists that North Korea may be violating the agreement.

Nobody contends that getting along with North Korea is easy. But the only alternative to patience is war, which nobody wants.

The need is to defuse confrontations such as the current one in the Yellow Sea and prevent them from setting off another war.

Hawaii drug trafficking
gets federal attention

Bullet The issue: The federal drug-control office has added Hawaii to its list of intense drug-trafficking areas.
Bullet Our view: The designation should bolster the effort to combat distribution of illegal drugs in the state.

HAWAII'S inclusion among "high intensity drug trafficking areas" by the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy is long overdue. More than two dozen areas of the mainland had been given that designation since the program began in 1990.

The designation is unflattering, but welcome for the increased federal funding it will provide to reduce Hawaii's role as a drug distribution hub.

The most harmful drug used in large amounts in the state has been crystal methamphetamine, or "ice," which first entered Hawaii about a decade ago from Asia and has spread to the mainland. A greater federal effort might have minimized that activity, which has grown to dangerous proportions.

The federal office acknowledges belatedly that Hawaii's accessibility to Los Angeles and Tokyo makes the islands "a key international drug distribution hub."

Hawaii is not only an entry point of illegal drugs into the United States but what Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Patsy Mink describe as a "jumping-off" point for drugs shipped from Mexico or the mainland to the Pacific islands and Asia.

Meanwhile, local drug activity has increased sharply. From 1996-98, drug arrests increased by 53 percent on Oahu, by 42 percent on the Big Island and by four times on Kauai.

The designation as a key drug-trafficking area "is a catalyst for the coordination of law enforcement and prosecution," says Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, director of federal drug control policy. It will result in an immediate addition of $700,000 to fight illegal drugs in the islands, plus federal help with training, equipment and personnel.

Sen. Daniel Akaka said the federal assistance"will certainly help us to stem the tide of ice to the mainland. This will help our country in the future."

Drug trafficking in and through Hawaii has reached a level that will take a major coordinated effort by law-enforcement officials to combat effectively. The new designation hopefully is an indication that the federal government recognizes the size of the effort required.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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