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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The South Korean defense ministry on Tuesday said it will reduce the ROK’s troops and equipment at guard posts along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in stages, while pledging to build “core capabilities” against the North’s missile and nuclear arsenal “as planned.”
At a plenary session of the National Assembly’s defense committee, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced plans to withdraw military forces on the heavily fortified border, as part of broader steps towards implementing April’s Panmunjom Declaration.
“We will push forward the plan to withdraw forces and equipment of the guard posts within the DMZ on a trial basis as a substantive measure to transform the DMZ into a peace zone, and expand it by stages,” a ministry report submitted to the National Defense Committee and carried by local outlets reads.
The defense ministry also said the “plan for the full-scale withdrawal” of troops and equipment from historical sites and ecological research areas will go ahead – on a trial basis – following the pull out of guard post forces.
April’s Panmunjom Declaration saw Seoul and Pyongyang agree to transform the DMZ into the peace zone “by ceasing as of May 1 this year all hostile acts and eliminating their means.”
As the result of the agreement, the two Koreas have reportedly removed loudspeakers in the areas along the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), while Seoul has prevented activists from sending anti-regime leaflets across the border.
Tuesday saw the defense ministry say it has pursued the demilitarization of the joint security area (JSA) as part of a pilot project to change the DMZ into a peace region – agreed to at inter-Korean general-level military talks last month.
Under that agreement, the South Korean military will seek to reduce the size of guard personnel, reduce the deployment of firearms, and work towards establishing freedom of movement in the region.
The MND also said it would pursue joint recovery operation (JRO) with the U.S. and North Korea, explaining that Seoul would assist in the excavation of American POW/MIA remains “if necessary.”
The recovery of those remains was a key component of June’s Singapore agreement between U.S. President Donald Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong Un.
A U.S. military official previously confirmed to NK News that Washington was preparing for the North to transfer an unspecified number of remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean War within the next couple of weeks.
Tuesday’s meeting also saw the ROK defense ministry insist that it would “push ahead with the establishment of the military’s core capabilities in preparation for North Korean nuclear and missiles threats as planned.”
In the report, the military said it has allocated an “adequate share of the budget” to its five-year defense plan from 2019 to 2023.
The plan will see Seoul seek to complete the anti-North Korea three-axis defense system, which include the Kill Chain pre-emptive strike program, Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD), and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) plans.
The defense ministry said it would “review and supplement the concept of Korean three-axis system and required military strength only if there is a substantial change in the threat from North Korea, including the denuclearization.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: File photo