The two Koreas and the US-led United Nations Command have agreed to remove weapons in a border village where troops from both sides face off daily, the latest sign of increasingly warm relations between the once-hostile neighbours, The Guardian reports.
Seoul’s defence ministry said in a statement that, following trilateral talks on Monday, agreement had been reached to withdraw firearms and guard posts from the Joint Security Area (JSA), also known as the truce village of Panmunjom.
The parties will then conduct a “three-way joint verification” for another two days, it added.
The highly symbolic move comes amid the failure of nuclear talks to yield concrete results the complaints from the US that it had not been properly briefed on military agreements between the two Koreas. The approval of the US-led United Nations Command (UNC) is significant given wariness in Washington about the pace of inter-Korean rapprochement and its earlier order to block shipments across the border.
The JSA is the only spot along the tense, 250km (155-mile) frontier where troops from the two countries stand face to face.
The area was a site of a dramatic defection by a North Korean solider in December last year, in which the soldier was shot by his own side and South Korean commandos performed a daring rescue operation.
It was a designated neutral zone until the “axe murder incident” in 1976, when North Korean soldiers attacked a work party trying to chop down a tree inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), killing two US army officers.
South and North Korea – which are technically still at war – agreed to take measures to ease military tensions on their border at a meeting in Pyongyang last month between president Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un.
This month, the two sides began removing landmines at the JSA – which is now often used for talks between the two Koreas – as part of the deal, which was confirmed “complete” at Monday’s talks. That operation lasted 20 days, but only removed a small fraction of the land mines that pepper the DMZ.
The September summit was the third this year between the leaders, as a remarkable rapprochement takes hold on the peninsula.
Moon has advocated engagement with the isolated North to nudge it toward denuclearisation.
Monday’s talks were the second meeting of a trilateral JSA commission made up of the two Koreas and the UN Command, which retains jurisdiction over the southern half of the JSA.
Its chief, US general Vincent Brooks, told reporters in August that as UN commander he supported initiatives that could reduce military tensions.
But he added that as commander of the combined US-South Korean forces – one of his other roles – he felt there was a “reasonable degree of risk” in Seoul’s plans to dismantle guard posts near the DMZ.