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In 19 days, land mines are cleared from JSA

Oct 20,2018
Operations to remove land mines in the truce village on the border between the two Koreas effectively ended Friday, the first step in fulfilling an agreement signed by the leaders of South and North Korea last April to disarm the demilitarized zone (DMZ).

According to sources familiar with the operation that began Oct. 1, five land mines were discovered and removed on the North’s side of the Joint Security Area (JSA), while none were found on the South’s side. A source from the South Korean military told reporters Friday that operations on its side were effectively complete, while the North was wrapping up theirs a day ahead of a deadline today.

The United Nations Command (UNC), which oversees the JSA, said through a press release on Friday that it verified that all mines in the area had been successfully removed.

“Yesterday’s UNC verification of initial mine clearance operations in the DMZ lays the foundation for future progress on the CMA [inter-Korean comprehensive military agreement] implementation,” UNC commander Gen. Vincent Brooks was quoted as saying. “UNC will continue to work closely with ROK and DPRK to synchronize implementation efforts on the way ahead,” using the acronyms for the official names of South and North Korea.

The Panmunjom Declaration, which was signed at the historic first summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in April, pledged to turn the 240-kilometer (149-mile) DMZ between the two countries into a peace zone.

When the two leaders met for a third time in Pyongyang last month, they signed a military accord on Sept. 19 detailing concrete measures to fulfill this pledge, starting with the removal of all land mines within the JSA - a small portion of the DMZ which encompasses the village of Panmunjom, where the armistice agreement that ended hostilities in Korean War was signed in 1953.

As per the military agreement, the two Koreas will now begin to dismantle guard posts and remove armed personnel from inside the JSA, which must be completed within five days after the mines are removed. Demining is set to continue at a second area agreed upon in the military accord - a part of the DMZ in Cheorwon County, Gangwon - up to Nov. 30.

The agreement also stipulated that the two Koreas would conduct a joint operation to excavate the remains of soldiers killed during the Korean War as well as another excavation program for historical relics in the Cheorwon area after the areas are cleared of mines.

To demonstrate South Korea’s commitment to fulfilling the agreement, Presidential Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok and two cabinet members visited a site in Cheorwon on Thursday to check the demining operations in lieu of President Moon, who is on a nine-day trip around Europe to build diplomatic support for the establishment of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula. Yet Seoul’s enthusiasm for defusing military tensions with Pyongyang does not appear to resonate in Washington, which was reportedly caught off guard by South Korea’s agreement with the North to set up a no-fly zone around the border by Nov. 1 as part of the disarmament drive.

The zone will extend 40 kilometers north and south from the DMZ in the East and 20 kilometers in the West for fixed-wing aircraft. No live-fire drills involving fixed-wing aircraft and air-to-ground guided weapons will be permitted in the area.

A report by Reuters on Thursday cited two sources in the United States familiar with the situation who said the United States remains opposed to no-fly zone plans, echoing protestations made by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha last week. On concerns of a growing wedge between the United States and South Korea, a spokesman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff on Friday said there were “no disagreements” between the two countries regarding the no-fly zone.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]
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