North, South Korea and UN Command hold first talks on demilitarising border at Panmunjom

Seoul: The two Koreas and the US-led United Nations Command began talks Tuesday on demilitarising a section of the heavily fortified border dividing the peninsula, as a diplomatic thaw gathers pace.

"The first meeting between the South, North and the UNC on disarming the Joint Security Area (JSA) will take place at 10 am on Tuesday at Panmunjom," Seoul's defence ministry said in a message sent to reporters.

A South Korean army soldier stands guard near the scene of a blast inside the demilitarised zone in Paju, South Korea. AP

A South Korean army soldier stands guard near the scene of a blast inside the demilitarised zone. AP

The JSA, also known as the truce village of Panmunjom, is the only spot along the tense, 250-kilometre (155-mile) frontier where troops from the two countries stand face to face. It was a designated neutral zone until the "axe murder incident" in 1976, when North Korean soldiers attacked a work party trying to chop down a tree inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), leaving two US army officers dead.

South and North Korea — which are technically still at war — agreed to take measures to ease military tensions on their border at a meeting in Pyongyang last month between Presidents Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un. Earlier this month, the two sides began removing landmines at the JSA — which is now often used for talks between the two Koreas — as part of the deal, and are due to withdraw "unnecessary" surveillance equipment once the landmine work is completed.

The September summit was the third this year between the leaders as a remarkable rapprochement takes hold on the peninsula. Moon has advocated engagement with the isolated North to nudge it toward denuclearisation. During his summit with Kim last month, the two men also agreed to remove some guard posts at the border by the end of the year and to halt military drills in the area from November.

Tuesday's talks were the first meeting of a trilateral JSA commission made up of the two Koreas and the UN Command, which is included as it retains jurisdiction over the southern half of the JSA. Its chief, US general Vincent Brooks, told reporters in August that as UN commander he supported initiatives that could reduce military tensions.

But he added that as commander of the combined US-South Korean forces — one of his other roles — he felt there was a "reasonable degree of risk" in Seoul's plans to dismantle guard posts near the DMZ.

Updated Date: Oct 16, 2018 11:50 AM

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