S. Korea, Japan postpone landmark military pact

South Korea Friday postponed at the last minute the signing of a landmark military agreement with Japan, amid anger in Seoul over the planned pact with a former colonial ruler.

The information-sharing pact would have been their first military agreement since the end of Japan's brutal 1910-45 colonial rule over Korea.

It would have enabled the two sides, both of whom are close US allies, to swap intelligence about North Korea's missile and nuclear programmes and other defence issues.

Many older Koreans have bitter memories of Japan's rule and military cooperation is a sensitive issue. Both the ruling and opposition parties in Seoul called for a delay, saying details have been kept secret.

A senior official of the ruling New Frontier Party, Chin Young, said the public opposes some aspects and it was inappropriate "to rush the signing of the agreement, with its details remaining unknown to the public".

Chin said parliament should have the right to debate the pact even though it is not subject to parliamentary approval.

In an announcement less than one hour before the deal was to be signed in Tokyo, the South's foreign ministry said the government would consult legislators before going ahead.

It was the second time Seoul had postponed the deal.

Citing lingering anti-Japanese hostility, South Korea last month suspended the signing of the agreement, and of another military accord on sharing logistics and cooperation in peacekeeping.

The impending agreement had sparked angry reaction from the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) and activists.

DUP floor leader Park Jie-Won argued it would only intensify military confrontation in northeast Asia, and attacked Seoul's cabinet for approving it behind closed doors.

Watchdog group Citizens Coalition for Economic Justice said it would help Japan's rearmament and pave the way for its troops to set foot on the Korean peninsula.

Historical disputes still mar the two countries' relationship despite their close economic relations.

They wrangle over ownership of rocky islets in the Sea of Japan (East Sea), and Tokyo has rejected talks on compensating Korean women used by Japan as military sex slaves during World War II.

But South Korea wants to use Japan's intelligence assets, including its spy satellites and high-end surveillance aircraft, Yonhap news agency quoted a South Korean official as saying Wednesday.

The military intelligence pact is also needed to cope with China's rise, the official said.

Yonsei University professor Kim Sang-Joon described the incident as an "apparent diplomatic gaffe" but said both countries would try to mend ties despite controversy over the past.

It would not be seriously damaging to the government of President Lee Myung-Bak, Kim told AFP.

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