Update at 1815 KST: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that a planned trilateral meeting between the UNC, DPRK, and ROK was rescheduled.
DPRK authorities expect tourists visiting the North Korean side of the Joint Security Area (JSA) to be able to freely cross into the Southern side of the site on Thursday, travel industry sources told NK News on Monday.
In news reportedly relayed by the Korean International Tourism Company (KITC) Monday morning, DPRK authorities suggested that plans by the two Koreas to demilitarize the JSA will go ahead much faster than anticipated.
“From November 1 tourists can cross the demarcation line to the southern side when they visit the DMZ,” Rowan Beard, a tour manager for Young Pioneer Tours (YPT) told NK News, adding visitors will be able to “see the pine tree planted by the northern side over there.”
Another tourism industry confirmed that Thursday was “the date we were given too,” though stressed that observers would have to “wait and see” if the plans go ahead.
“But it’s an interesting development,” said Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours. “I’m not sure yet how far this free roaming thing at the JSA will extend; across the line and up to Freedom House? Will see on November 1st perhaps!”
South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) on Monday declined to confirm whether the free movement would begin as early as Thursday, with deputy spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo saying it was “hard to say as of now.”
A spokesperson for United Nations Command (UNC) also declined to comment when contacted by NK News.
The move is part of broader plans for the demilitarization of the JSA, agreed to by the two Koreas in September’s inter-Korean military agreement,
The North and South Korean militaries and the UNC on Thursday completed the withdrawal of firearms and guard posts from the JSA, having wrapped up a 20 day mine removal operation earlier in the week.
Sunday then saw the South’s MND confirm that the three sides had finished two days of work to verify the demilitarization of the JSA.
“Through the joint verification work, the three sides directly confirmed and evaluated the fact that mutual disarmament steps were faithfully carried out in all JSA areas,” the defense ministry said in a release.
Under the terms of September’s agreement, the two Koreas must now deploy up to 35 unarmed personnel to the site, before the setting up of a cross-border “Panmunjom Civil Police.”
The two Koreas will then install new guard posts on their respective sides of the border, and personnel from the two “will be on duty side-by-side.”
YPT’s Beard told NK News that some of these disarmament steps are already visible from the ground.
“Already soldiers from each side are crossing over with no weapons or helmets,” he said.
The two Koreas and the UNC were originally set to hold a trilateral meeting on Tuesday to discuss further “standards of interaction, verification review, and surveillance,” the UNC said in a press release, though the talks were later rescheduled.
The purported November 1 changes to the JSA will be accompanied by a number of other steps intended to reduce tensions along the DMZ.
September’s agreement also saw the two sides agree to “cease various military exercises aimed at each other along the Military Demarcation Line (MDL)” as of Thursday.
The two Koreas will also begin the enforcement of a no-fly zone “for all aircraft types above the MDL.”
Chad O’Carroll and Dagyum Ji contributed reporting.
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Featured Image: standoff by istolethetv on 2013-05-11 09:00:55