SEOUL, DEC. 13 (FRIDAY) -- North Korea and South Korea today signed an accord pledging non-aggression and greater exchanges of people and communication, an accomplishment hailed as an important step toward healing the bitter emnity that has divided their peninsula since the end of World War II.

The agreement does not formally end the state of war between the two sides that has existed since the Korean War armistice of 1953, nor does it address the highly contentious issue of the North's nuclear program. It also leaves for future resolution the key matter of implementation of some of its provisions.

But the accord, reached after both sides made concessions, commits Seoul and Pyongyang to eventually sign a peace treaty and says they "shall respect each other's political and social system"; forswear sabotage, subversion and slander; and refrain from using armed force against each other.

The agreement contains provisions for cultural and economic exchanges as well as measures intended to prevent accidental hostilities, including prior notification of major military movements and the establishment of a military hot line.

The pact, reached Thursday after night-long negotiations, was described as "a historic milestone" by Lee Dong Bok, the South Korean government spokesman. "I think we are going to see a greatly changed context of the inter-Korean relationship after this agreement goes into effect," he said.

North Korean Premier Yon Hyong Muk concurred at a dinner Thursday: "It's a historic night. I'm very glad that a new light has been thrown on our national unification."

The agreement will prove truly significant in the long run, Western diplomats here said, if its principles are translated into action -- if, for example, Communist North Korea allows its citizens more direct interchange with people and information from capitalist countries, or if Pyongyang and Seoul actually implement measures such as pre-notification of troop movements.

But analysts said the agreement has importance now because it sets a new tone for a relationship that has been based on hatred and mistrust.

Chung Won Shik, South Korea's prime minister, and Yon, his North Korean counterpart, signed the pact this morning, though only after a last-minute argument over the timing of their next meeting. Then they shook hands and basked in the enthusiastic cheers of their aides.

Titled "Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression, Exchange and Cooperation," the pact is the first concrete result of five rounds of talks between the prime ministers of the two Koreas that began in September 1990. The preamble states that the accord is "in keeping with the yearning of the entire people for the peaceful unification of the divided land."

The accord does not resolve the issue that has dominated the talks: North Korea's rejection of Western demands that it permit international inspection of its nuclear facilities. The North Korean position has become a matter of grave concern to the United States and other Western governments, which believe that the hard-line regime of Kim Il Sung is racing to develop atomic weapons.

North and South Korea issued a joint statement today stating their broad agreement that nuclear weapons should be banned from the peninsula, and they scheduled meetings for later this month to discuss the issue.

But the developments left the two sides far apart on the nuclear question. At today's signing ceremony, South Korea's Chung admonished North Korea's Yon that the issue should be resolved "as soon as possible," and he urged Pyongyang to accept Seoul's proposal for simultaneous inspection of North Korean nuclear plants and U.S. air bases here.

The North Koreans insisted that South Korea abandon the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The United States is currently believed to be withdrawing its nuclear forces from South Korea.

Yon exhorted Chung to "seriously reconsider" holding this year's military exercises with the United States, which are called "Team Spirit." South Korean press reports have speculated that the exercises may be postponed or scaled down in an effort to encourage North Korean cooperation on the nuclear issue.

Seoul's decision to go forward with the accord without settling the nuclear question drew fire from critics here, who charged that South Korean President Roh Tae Woo had let North Korea off the hook in his eagerness to achieve a historic rapprochement.

North Korea, hobbled by a highly repressive state-controlled system, is widely believed to be desperate for economic aid and commerce with Japan, the United States and other industrialized nations. But partly in response to South Korean concerns, Tokyo and Washington have refused to deal with Pyongyang until it proves that its nuclear program is purely peaceful.

By striking the accord, "South Korea is weakening its own position," said Yang Sung Chul, a professor at Kyung Hee University. "I don't know how South Korea can persuade the U.S. or Japan to make the nuclear issue the first and foremost precondition" for ties with North Korea, he said.

Another limitation of the agreement is that it is drawn in broad terms; it leaves until later some crucial implementation questions. For example, although the North Koreans have committed themselves in principle to "exchanges and cooperation" in areas such as newspapers and radio broadcasts, nobody here believes that Kim Il Sung is about to relax the totalitarian grip that has kept him in power for nearly five decades.

North Korean and South Korean officials participating in the negotiations clearly enjoyed a sense of mutual elation, slapping each other on the back and congratulating each other when the announcement came Thursday that agreement had been reached. "I feel much relieved and deeply moved," South Korea's Lee told reporters.

Both sides made some key concessions, according to officials and press reports.

The North Koreans agreed to drop their long-standing refusal to negotiate a peace treaty with South Korea. Previously, Pyongyang had insisted that it should sign a peace treaty with the United States, which supplied most of the troops fighting the North Koreans in the 1950-53 Korean War.

The North Koreans also stopped objecting to South Korea's proposal for opening liaison offices to help reunite families. But Pyongyang insisted -- and South Korea agreed -- that one such office be located in Panmunjom, instead of an office in each capital as the South Koreans had originally wanted.

The agreement states that Seoul and Pyongyang "shall respect each other's political and social system . . . shall not slander and vilify each other . . . {and} shall not attempt in any manner to sabotage and subvert the other." It also calls for the reunification of some 10 million Koreans whose families have been separated for decades and have had virtually no contact with their relatives.

The agreement provides for the establishment within three months of a joint military committee, which will "carry out steps to build military confidence and realize arms reductions."

These steps will include the establishment of the military hot line, exchanges of military information and "phased reductions in armaments including the elimination of weapons of mass destruction and surprise attack capabilities."

In the section on exchanges and cooperation, the two sides agreed that they "shall permit free correspondence, reunions and visits between family members and other relatives dispersed south and north."

The pact envisions reconnecting railroads and roads that have been cut off, and opening land, sea and air transport routes between the two sides.

The agreement also states that the Koreas shall develop trade in goods and joint investment in industrial projects. And it provides for "exchanges and cooperation in diverse fields, including science, technology, education, literature, the arts, health, sports, the environment and publishing and journalism, including newspapers, radio, television and publications in general."

After months of diplomatic talks between the governments of North Korea and South Korea, officials yesterday announced that both sides had agreed to their first non-aggression accord in over 45 years of hostility. Here are highlights of the reconciliation accord, according to officials at prime ministerial talks in Seoul.

NON-AGGRESSION: In this section, the most sensitive of the comprehensive agreement, the two sides agreed to issue a joint declaration of non-aggression. As confidence-building measures, the countries are to give advance warning of troop movements and exercises and install a hot line between top military commanders.

PEACE TREATY: North Korea agreed to negotiate with South Korea on a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. In the past, North Korea insisted the peace treaty be signed between it and the United States.

NUCLEAR INSPECTIONS: The sensitive issues of nuclear development or deployment will be discussed by a joint military committee to be formed within a month after the agreement is put into force.

TERRORISM, OVERTHROW OF GOVERNMENTS: Both sides agreed to ban terrorist activity and attempts to overthrow the other's government. North Korea's constitution still carries a commitment to convert the South to communism by force, and it has not publicly renounced terrorism.

LIAISON: The two nations agreed to set up liaison offices at the border village of Panmunjom, a move that may help reunite 10 million families separated by the division of the peninsula and the Korean War. The North also for the first time agreed to call for efforts to reunite such families.

LEGAL RESTRAINTS: North Korea dropped its demand that South Korea repeal laws restricting contact with the North. South Korea had maintained the laws were for national security and therefore internal matters.

FREE TRAVEL, CORRESPONDENCE: Both sides agreed to promote free travel and correspondence. Details will be worked out at future talks.

SOURCE: Associated Press