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‘Koreas’ former leaders had shared hotline’

Former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun shared a hotline with then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, a former spy chief said in an interview with a local newspaper on Friday.

In the article published in JoongAng Ilbo, former National Intelligence chief Kim Man-bok said, “While arranging for the second inter-Korean summit in October 2007, there was no need to activate the back channels.

Kim, who was quoted as saying that the hotline was in operation 24 hours a day, later explained that while there was such a channel, Roh and the North Korean leader never directly spoke through the line.

"The South Korean side of the hotline was located at the NIS and was on standby at all times,” Kim explained while attending a symposium. Messages that came through the channel were considered a direct intent of North Korea leader Kim Jong-il and were immediately reported to the former South Korean presidents, he explained. Kim Man-bok headed the spy agency between 2006 and 2008. He denied saying in the interview that the leaders had constantly called each other directly, saying that his words may have been taken out of context.

The two Koreas currently operate a phone line at Panmunjeom, which Kim said in the interview was different from the hotline that was launched upon improved inter-Korean ties during the Kim Dae-jung administration.

He was quoted as saying that he believed the direct channel was severed soon after the inauguration of the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration in 2008.

The Unification Ministry, meanwhile, said they could not confirm the report relevant to previous administrations.

From news reports