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For Korea: Black Box, Apology

SEOUL - President Boris Yeltsin surprised his South Korean hosts on Thursday with what he called a "show of friendship and apology" by handing over the black box from a Korean Air jetliner shot down in 1983 by a Soviet fighter jet.


"I am going to hand over the black box and taped recordings to resolve all lingering doubts about the incident", Yeltsin said as he opened an orange case containing the black box, or cockpit voice and flight data recorders, from the ill-fated KAL jet.


"I originally planned to send the black box and related materials to the International Civil Aviation Organization, but I brought them here as a show of friendship and apology", he added.


South Korean officials said they had not been informed that Russia would turn over the black box during Yeltsin's trip. The Russian president arrived Wednesday for a historic three-day visit aimed at patching up relations between the former enemies and stepping up economic cooperation.


President Roh Tae-woo, clearly surprised, listened intently and said, "This shows sincerity building up between the two countries".


In another important gesture to Seoul, Yeltsin also pledged to end Russian military aid to North Korea, Itar-Tass reported.


Speaking with representatives of the South Korean business community, Yeltsin said that Russia would "discontinue any military assistance to North Korea", Itar-Tass said. He added that Russia was ready to cooperate with Seoul "in the military-technical field".


Yeltsin's gesture of returning the black box was seen as part of an effort to help win support for his country's flagging economy. The flap over the KAL incident heightened East-West tensions at the time and has soured bilateral relations for years.


In October, Yeltsin tried to put the case to rest by handing over transcripts of what were believed to be cockpit voice recordings, but Seoul officials said they were insufficient to explain why KAL 007 veered off course before it was shot down, killing all 269 people on board.


Seoul continued to demand the return of the black box itself. Reversing a previous Russian statement, Yeltsin said in Moscow last week that he was willing to hand over the black box to South Korea but that it would be better to deliver it to the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization since the United States, Canada and other countries were also demanding its return.


Also Thursday, Yeltsin told South Korea's parliament that Russia is halving production of submarines and within three years will halt production altogether.


The declaration that Russia will halt production of submarines, a mainstay of the Russian arsenal, apparantly goes further than any previous committment. Even some government officials in Moscow had not been aware Yeltsin was to make such a statement.


"The announcement about complete suspension of submarine production sounds totally new and came as a surprise", said Yury Andreyev, an aide to Yeltsin's chief advisor on military conversion.


A 90-minute summit talk, between Yeltsin and Roh resulted in the signing of a treaty pledging cooperation between the two former adversaries.

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