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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The ROK military on Thursday provided supplies to the North’s inter-Korean military communication line on the west coast following an exemption by the UN sanctions committee, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND) confirmed on Friday.
In a written statement, the defense ministry said it had provided supplies, including transmission equipment for copper and fiber-optic cables, to North Korea.
“The Ministry of National Defense (MND) provided related goods for the maintenance of military communications line in the western district — which is unstable due to the obsolete nature of the line and equipment — to the North.”
The provision of items was agreed to at the eighth general-level military talks – and a working-level meeting on communications – held in June.
“The South and North Korean military authorities will stably maintain military communications line in the western district through the measure,” the MND said.
“It will contribute to come up with military guarantee measures which are required to allow inter-Korean cooperation, contact, and visits.”
The UN Security Council (UNSC) Sanctions Committee on North Korea provided an exemption to Seoul for the delivery of the supplies, an official at the South Korean defense ministry confirmed to NK News.
The exemption likely covered some provisions contained in UNSC resolution 2321, which prohibits supplying the DPRK with “copper, nickel, silver and zinc.”
Pyongyang restored 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 channel in January.
Technical issues, however, meant the two Koreas later agreed in June to “completely restore” the military communication channels on the east and west coasts.
July saw Seoul announce the complete restoration of the military communication channel on the west coast, allowing the two sides to hold phone conversations as well as send and receive faxes through a fiber-optic cable.
To this end, Seoul this week provided optical fiber cable transmission equipment and a fax for exchanging documents with Pyongyang, in consultation with the UNSC and Washington.
The North and South had previously only been able to hold talks by the phone through a copper cable.
The military communications line on the eastern coast was also fully restored this August following an eight-year freeze caused by forest fire damage in November 2010.
The South Korean military said the hotline would allow smooth passage and communications during reunion events for families separated by the Korean War.
The newly-restored communication channel will also be able to provide military guarantee measures when inter-Korean cooperation projects including rail and road modernization are implemented, it added.
Meanwhile, the two Koreas plan to complete the trial destruction of 20 guard posts (GPs) and mine clearance in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) on Friday, as part of the broader implementation of a September military agreement.
Seoul and Pyongyang originally agreed to completely demolish a total of 22 GPs located within one km of each other by the end of this month at general-level military talks held in October.
Both sides this month decided to reserve one GP on each side for memorial purposes.
September’s agreement saw the two sides agree to take preliminary measures by the end of the year, ahead of withdrawing all observation posts within the DMZ.
Pyongyang blew up ten GPs earlier this month.
The South, however, has opted to demolish its GPs using an excavator, due to concerns about environmental preservation and the safety of workers.
The ROK defense ministry previously announced that the South Korean military had blown up one GP on the central front of Cheorwon County in Gangwon Province, however.
As agreed in October’s general-level military talks, the two Koreas will now push forward with the mutual verification of the demilitarization of the area, aiming to complete that process by the end of the year.
An official at the ROK MND told NK News that the North and South will next month visit the other sides’ demolished GPs as part of that process.
The ROK defense ministry previously said that “accidental armed conflicts” between North and South Korean GPs have taken place around 80 times.
The withdrawal of GPs, they have also stressed, will not have a significant impact on security operations in DMZ considering the capability of surveillance equipment.
Thursday saw defense ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo tell a press briefing that the two sides have been in consultation over the issue.
As another measure to implement the comprehensive military agreement, the two Koreas on Friday wrapped up a two-month mine sweeping operation near the DMZ’s Hill 281/Arrowhead Ridge in Cheorwon County, Gangwon Province.
October 1 saw the two Koreas begin the removal of mines and explosives from the area, as part of a pilot joint remains recovery project scheduled to be conducted between April and October next year.
Pyongyang and Seoul have so far removed thousands of mines and explosives, the official at the South Korean defense ministry confirmed to NK News, adding that signs had been installed along the outline of areas where mines have been removed.
The construction of the 12 meter wide inter-Korean road — which the North and the South Korean military agreed to finish by this year —has been underway since October in the region.
The ROK MND last Thursday announced the North and South Korean roads had been connected, adding this was the first instance of its kind in 14 years since Gyeongui and Donghae roads were linked in 2003 and 2004.
In spite of the ongoing progress, the United Nations Command (UNC) and the two Koreas are yet to reach an agreement on fresh guard regulations for the newly-demilitarized Joint Security Area (JSA).
MND spokesperson Choi on Thursday said the process has been taking longer than expected as it was the first time for the three sides to establish new rules and that there remain technical issues to iron out.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: NK News