The DPRK and ROK militaries on Tuesday discussed “substantive” steps towards relieving tensions between the two sides, the South Korean chief delegate to the talks said, though ultimately failed to agree on a joint press statement.
The two Koreas held their ninth general-level military talks between 1000 and 1836 local time at the Peace House on the Southern side of Panmunjom – less than two months after a similar meeting in June.
Tuesday saw North and South Korean officials hold multiple meetings, including three rounds of talks between chief delegates.
South Korean chief delegate Kim Do-gyun, who serves as head of the North Korea Policy Bureau at the Ministry of National Defense (MND), told a news briefing following the meetings that the two sides that discussed pending issues.
Kim said the ROK side had been able to “confirm the North Korean stance,” adding talks had covered “substantive measures for the alleviation of inter-Korean military tensions and trust building.”
Plans for joint recovery operations (JRO) of war remains and the mutual withdrawal of guard posts in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on a trial basis were also on the agenda, he added, as was the demilitarization of the Joint Security Area (JSA).
During the final round of the meeting, North Korean chief delegate An Ik San, Army Lieutenant General of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), said both sides agreed “on some aspects,” though did not go into further details.
Tuesday’s issues were previously mentioned at a policy briefing at the National Assembly’s defense committee last Tuesday.
Seoul last week unveiled a plan to reduce troops and equipment at guard posts along the DMZ “on a trial basis” as part of measures to transform the DMZ into a “peace zone.”
The MND also said it would push forward with JRO alongside Pyongyang and Washington, in order to implement both inter-Korean and DPRK-U.S. agreements simultaneously.
In June, ROK President Moon Jae-in also said Seoul would pursue the excavation of the remains of South Korean soldiers and police in the DMZ “as a priority” when inter-Korean relations improved.
Speaking at the press briefing on Tuesday, ROK chief delegate Kim Do-gyun said he had delivered an invitation from the South Korean vice-defense minister to the North to attend the Seoul Defense Dialogue (SDD), set to be held between September 12 and 14.
This is not the first time the South has sent the invitation, however, according to an MND official who wished to remain anonymous.
Kim added the North Korean side said it would give notice if they can attend following a report to their superiors.
“Our assessment is that the South-North general-level military talks have significance in the sense that both sides reach an agreement to push forward agreements in the military field of the Panmunjom Declaration… and develop a sense of sympathy,” the ROK chief delegate said.
In spite of the absence of a joint press statement, both sides agreed to hold further “in-depth” and “serious” discussions on pending issues at the final round of the meeting.
North Korean chief delegate An Ik San said that his side could understand its counterpart’s view.
“In that perspective, today’s meeting is very productive,” An said, adding Seoul and Pyongyang discussed issues with “historical significance in the history of inter-Korean history.”
“We had an in-depth discussion on the issues,” he added. “I believe we can resolve any kind of issue if we maintain this way.”
“I think we had serious and open-minded dialogue today,” South Korean chief delegate Kim said at the final round of meetings.
“I believe that the South and North Korean military authorities can play a key role in establishing permanent peace on the Korean peninsula if we research more about today’s discussion and each other’s positions and come up with rational measures for the implementation.”
Another official at the MND said the two Koreas on Tuesday discussed the issue of turning the “areas around the Northern Limit Line in the West Sea into a maritime peace zone” – also agreed to in April’s Panmunjom Declaration.
The official said turning the west coast into a maritime peace zone would assist in ending hostile acts in the region, adding both sides had agreed to hold further discussions on the issue.
“We agreed to cease hostile acts firstly including suspending gunfire exercise in the West Sea or closing the gunport or muzzle cover of the guns of warships and the coastal artillery,” they said.
Conflicts over the maritime border on the western coast have continued in what the North describes as “hot spot waters in the West Sea.”
These clashes have resulted in, among others, the two battles of Yeonpyeong in 1999 and 2002, as well as the sinking of the ROK warship Cheonan and the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island by the North in 2010.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Ministry of National Defense (MND)
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