INTRO: South Korean troops are on high alert after guards found a hole cut in the barbed wire fence along the border with communist North Korea. /// OPT /// The discovery comes just as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visits South Korea to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. /// END OPT /// Benjamin Sand has more from our Asia News Center in Hong Kong.
TEXT: South Korean officials say the breach was discovered early Tuesday and could indicate North Korean spies have passed through the Demilitarized Zone - one of the most heavily armed borders in the world.
South Korean troops are manning emergency checkpoints north of the capital Seoul and are scouring the countryside for North Korean agents.
But South Korean defense expert Kim Tae-woo in Seoul says the security concerns may be overblown.
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"There are other ways to infiltrate into this society. What's the importance of a small hole? Already South Korea is a very free nation [with] so many North Koreans living here."
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The incident has heightened tensions on the peninsula - which has been divided for more than a half century. North and South Korea agreed to an armistice after their war in 1953 but never concluded a peace treaty.
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Furthermore the communist North has heightened concerns by aggressively pursuing a nuclear weapons program despite intense efforts by China, Japan, Russia and the United States to get Pyongyang to keep its international commitments to be nuclear free.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met with South Korean officials Tuesday in another push to restart six-nation talks to end North Korea's nuclear drive.
Three rounds since 2003 have been inconclusive.
While in Seoul, Mr. Powell insisted the United States had no plans to attack the North and said he wants talks with Pyongyang to resume right after the November 2nd U.S. presidential election.
North Korea insists it needs nuclear weapons because of a hostile U.S. policy and has demanded massive aid and security guarantees before it will consider dismantling any nuclear projects.
Mr. Powell completed a four-day three-nation Asian tour in which he press Japan and especially influential China to get North Korea to return to the negotiating table. (Signed)