N.Korea Wants Illuminated Church Crosses Removed

North Korea wants the removal of tall illuminated church crosses that light up the South Korean sky and are visible across the border in the secretive communist state, defense officials from the South said on Monday.

The North would in turn think about ways to erase huge political carvings on rocky cliffs facing the South that glorify its socialist system and leaders both alive and dead.

That is the trade-off agreed to in principle by military officials of South and North Korea as part of attempts to reduce tensions along the world's most heavily fortified border.

The agreement was reached in June in talks between the rival states, which have since broken down and remain on hold.

"Religious signs, we agreed they would be gone, too," said a Defense Ministry official. The two sides had also agreed to remove political signposts and loud speakers that blast propaganda along the border from both sides.

It was not entirely clear why North Korea singled out the crosses, although it is a country where the state controls all facets of life including religion.

"They can see them really well from over there, because some of them were put where they are to make sure they can be seen clearly, for example during Christmas," the official said.

North Korea has boycotted further military talks in apparent displeasure over South Korea firing warning shots at a North Korean patrol boat that crossed the disputed sea border in July.

The military agreement first signed in June and fine-tuned by officials for implementation had also been intended to prevent deadly naval clashes in the rich crab-fishing grounds in the Yellow Sea.

Suspension of the talks meant the planned removal of church crosses was also on hold.

A planning official in Paju, a town just south of the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas, said it had yet to receive directives from Seoul that the neon crosses had to go.

A signpost maker who specializes in the installation and removal of illuminated signs and crosses for churches in Seoul and the northern Kyunggi province said he has been receiving phone calls from concerned church pastors.

"The crosses have been left unplugged if they're where they can be seen from the North," said the sign maker, who is himself a church elder and requested anonymity.