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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The North and South Korean militaries on Friday agreed to “demolish” 22 guard posts in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) by the end of November, the ROK Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced in a statement to press.
The agreement followed several hours of general-level military talks on the northern side of Panmunjom between 1000 and 1500 local time – the third of their kind this year.
The ROK MND, however, said the North and the South had agreed to make separate announcements on the outcome of Friday’s meeting and decided not to issue a joint press statement.
A September military agreement saw Seoul and Pyongyang agree to completely remove all guard posts located within one kilometer of each other as a preliminary measure ahead of the withdrawal of all guard posts within the DMZ.
11 guard posts from each side were scheduled to be removed by the end of this year, but the two Koreas appear today to have brought that deadline forward by a month.
The two Koreas will as a result of today’s agreement withdraw personnel and equipment and “completely demolish” DMZ guard posts by the end of next month, verifying progress in December to ensure the process is wrapped up by the end of the year.
The North and South Korean militaries have also agreed to conduct a joint survey of cross-border waterways in the Han/Imjin River Estuary in early November, as part of measures to guarantee the freedom of navigation of private vessels in the area.
The team will be composed of 10 people from each side, including military officials, maritime transport authorities, and experts.
In September, the two Koreas agreed to devise military assurance measures for the joint use of Han/Imjin River Estuary and designate a joint utilization zone within a stretch of 70 kilometers.
Article one of the Korean War Armistice Agreement stipulates that the waters of “Han River Estuary shall be open to civil shipping,” though military tensions between the two Koreas have long prevented free access to the area.
Though the two Koreas were widely expected to use today’s talks to discuss the setting up of an inter-Korean Joint Military Committee, the South’s press statement suggested the two sides were yet to come to a firm agreement on the issue.
Seoul and Pyongyang originally committed to setting up a joint military committee in the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-aggression and Exchange and Cooperation between the South and the North signed in December 1991.
In the subsequent agreement on the formation and operation of the Inter-Korean Joint Military Committee, which took effect in May 1992, the two Koreas agreed to appoint a senior official (at vice-ministerial level or higher) as chairperson.
They then planned to establish a seven-member committee composed of one chairman and vice chairman as well as five members.
ROK chief delegate Kim Do-gyun, who also serves as head of the North Korea Policy Bureau at the defense ministry, told a news conference following Friday’s meeting that the two Koreas had held “concrete discussions” on the issue.
Kim said Seoul and Pyongyang would apply the 1992 May agreement to the formation of the committee, adding that both sides would soon make a decision on details such as its composition and the timing of its launch.
The ROK chief delegate also told the briefing that other pending issues, including the disputed western maritime zone known as the Northern Limit Line (NLL) and the establishment of a maritime peace zone on the western coast, had not been discussed.
Kim added, however, that the two Koreas see their differences on the NLL – which North Korea does not recognize – as a high-priority issue to be discussed when the inter-Korean Joint Military Committee is launched.
Friday’s meeting saw the two agree to push ahead with the implementation of September’s inter-Korean military agreement, reaffirming plans to cease hostile acts against each other as of November 1.
The two Koreas also confirmed that mine clearance and road construction operations in the DMZ were “proceeding normally.”
Mine sweeping is scheduled to be conducted between October 1 and November 30 in the area of Hill 281, also known as Arrowhead Ridge, in Cheorwon County, Gangwon Province.
The two will then use the cleared area to conduct a pilot Inter-Korean Joint Operation to Recover Remains project, set to take place between April 1 and October 31 next year.
A 12 meter wide road will be constructed between the two Koreas to facilitate the operation.
DPRK Army Lieutenant General of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) An Ik San during the final round of talks today hailed the “candid” nature of today’s meeting.
“I think the North and South Korean military had never had in-depth and wide discussions on pending issues in such a speedy manner and come to an agreement as we did today,” he said.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Republic of Korea Armed Forces