North and South Korean military on Thursday agreed to “completely restore” inter-Korean military communication lines on the east and west coast, the ROK Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced.
A joint press statement was issued following a day of inter-Korean general-level military talks on the Northern side of Panmunjom – the first of their kind since December 2007.
“Both sides will thoroughly implement the agreement of the inter-Korean general-level military talks on June 4, 2004 on prevention of naval clashes in the west sea,” the joint press statement read.
“[Both] agreed to completely restore the military communications line in the eastern and western district,” it continued.
January saw the North restore the military hotline in the west sea — previously used to regulate the entry of South Koreans into now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) — and the Panmunjom communications line.
A military officer— who wished to remain anonymous — said the West Sea area communications line had been well-operated before the North unilaterally closed it in the aftermath of the KIC shutdown.
The South Korean military, the source added, reportedly discovered the faults after the North restored the line in January, adding that the hotline on the western coast still needs repairs.
The military communication channels in the eastern coast weren’t repaired, however, having been severed since the North’s now-defunct National Defense Commission (NDC) issued an order to block the hotline in May 2011.
It is believed to have since been damaged in a forest fire.
The NDC also that same day announced that Pyongyang would close its communication liaison office at Mount Kumgang.
The North and South Korean militaries issued the “Agreement on the Prevention of Accidental Naval Clashes in the West Sea, the Cessation of Propaganda Activities in the Military Demarcation Line Areas & the Elimination of Propaganda Tools” following the second inter-Korean general-level military talks in June 2004.
The agreement specifically laid out six measures to prevent naval clashes in the western coast, where the disputed inter-Korean maritime borders and the so-called “Northern Limit Line” is located.
In the joint statement, the North and South Korean delegations were reported to have held “serious discussions on all matters required to alleviate the acute military tension and practically eliminate the danger of war on the Korean Peninsula.”
Both sides were also said to have exchanged opinions on various issues, including the issue of “completely ceasing all hostile acts which have been the reason for military conflict” and “turning the areas around the Northern Limit Line in the West Sea into a maritime peace zone.”
Also on the agenda was the issue of demilitarizing the Joint Security Area (JSA) in Panmunjom, as well as “taking military measures to facilitate inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation, as well as visits and contacts.”
Despite the delegations from Seoul and Pyongyang discussing a variety of issues, the two sides only reached an agreement on two points.
“Both sides agreed to continuously discuss the issues raised at the talks and to resolve them,” the statement added.
South Korean chief delegate Kim Do-gyun, who serves as head of the North Korea Policy Bureau at the defense ministry, later said Seoul and Pyongyang had held discussions on matters “in a serious and amicable atmosphere from beginning to end.”
Speaking at a briefing following the meeting, Kim said the North and South Korean militaries had agreed to take “effective measures” on the joint recovery of the remains of the war dead in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) – an issue also discussed at recent inter-Korean and DPRK-U.S. summits.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in this month said the government would push forward with the excavation of the remains of soldiers and police who died during the Korean War in the demilitarized zone (DMZ ) “as a priority” if inter-Korean relations improved.
Thursday also saw Moon and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agree to “pursue three-way cooperation” between the two Koreas and the U.S. on the recovery of remains of the war dead and their repatriation.
The U.S. and North Korea agreed in Singapore earlier in the week to “commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.”
During a Tuesday phone call with Trump, Moon said he “would discuss with the North joint excavation among the two Koreas and the U.S.,” explaining that Seoul and Pyongyang had also agreed to implement a similar project.
Chief delegate Kim Do-gyun on Thursday reiterated that Seoul and Pyongyang had done “their utmost to make a substantive agreement,” while adding it wasn’t possible to “resolve long-standing pending military issues in one go.”
The general-level meeting comes after U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he would put an end to joint U.S.-ROK military drills as long as Pyongyang and Washington continued diplomacy.
A military source confirmed to NK News that the surprise suspension of the joint military exercises was not discussed at Thursday’s meeting, emphasizing that the talks’ main goal was to discuss follow-up measures to the Panmunjom Declaration.
Seoul and Pyongyang both dispatched five-member delegations to Thursday’s meeting.
Kim Do-gyun, head of the North Korea Policy Bureau at the defense ministry, led the ROK delegation, with North Korean Army Lieutenant General of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) An Ik San – who served as chief delegate to the first and second inter-Korean general-level military talks in 2004 – served as Kim’s counterpart.
There were hints at major disagreements having taken place during today’s talks: at the final round of the meeting, the North Korean chief delegate An Ik San expressed his dissatisfaction with their outcome.
“I fully understand your situation, but let’s not repeat this again and be better prepared next time,” An told the South Korean chief delegate.
When Kim responded that discussing issues in the military field was “always a serious and difficult problem,” his DPRK counterpart abruptly put an end to the meeting.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND)
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