|Army colonel Cho Yong-geun, right, South Korea's chief envoy to inter-Korean working-level military talks, shakes hands with his North Korean counterpart Col. Om Chang-nam before the 40th military meeting at the Panmunjeom truce village on Thursday. Courtesy of the Ministry of National Defense|
President to fly to Pyongyang via western air route
By Kim Yoo-chul, Park Ji-won
The two Koreas agreed some military de-escalation measures Friday including a plan to demilitarize the Joint Security Area and continue joint recovery operations (JRO) of war dead in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in a step to relax military tensions ahead of the upcoming Pyongyang summit from Sept. 18 to 20.
Cheong Wa Dae announced later the same day President Moon Jae-in will fly directly to North Korea by using a direct western air route for his third inter-Korean summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
"The two Koreas agreed to demilitarize the JSA, operate the JRO to search for the remains of troops killed but unaccounted for during the Korean War and pull back their guard posts within the DMZ on a trial basis," a government official said.
The two Koreas started working-level military talks on Thursday morning at the North side of the truce village of Panmunjeom and continued discussions for 17 hours to narrow differences on specifics towards easing military tensions.
South Korea's defense ministry confirmed the two Koreas reached a "comprehensive military agreement," mandating Seoul and Pyongyang to abide by a timeline for agreed-upon military de-escalation measures.
"President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will officially sign the agreement at the upcoming summit to be held next week in the North Korean capital city of Pyongyang," the official said.
Specifically, both sides plan to withdraw up to 10 guard posts each all the way through the DMZ on a trial basis and increase the numbers to be dismantled, according to another official who is knowledgeable about the issue.
The main sites for the joint operation to excavate the remains of fallen soldiers during the Korean War would be cities in Gangwon Province as the province remains directly affected by the war with the DMZ dividing the province between North and South.
"Cheorwon and other cities in North Korea's side of the province were the sites of fierce battles during the Korean War. The two sides also agreed to expand their recovery missions into other cities in the province beyond the DMZ," the official said.
Earlier, the two Koreas agreed to transform the DMZ into a peace zone.
Gangwon's mountains remain a "focal point" for recovery missions searching for the remains of more than 7,700 U.S. soldiers still unaccounted for, according to Pentagon figures, as U.S. troops had a "big presence" in the province during the war, so much so that Marilyn Monroe flew in to entertain them at a U.S. military base back in 1954.
Mentioning approval by the U.S.-led United Nations Command (UNC) decision to allow border crossings for South Koreans and some supplies to construct a liaison office in the Gaeseong Industrial Complex in North Korea, the official said it's likely the UNC will allow military personnel to cross the border "if necessary." The UNC has authority to control the JSA.
The two Koreas also discussed ways to create a "peace zone" along the western maritime border. While sources said the two reached a "comprehensive understanding" over the creation of the maritime peace zone, the two are known to have failed to reach a "substantial agreement" establishing a zone where neither warships nor firing exercises will be given access near the Northern Limit Line (NLL).
"They were differing views over the specific limit as the North was still opposing the idea of accepting the NLL as the maritime border," the official said.
The creation of a maritime zone is a part of the agreement by the heads of the two Koreas in April. The NLL, which was drawn up after the end of the Korean War, has been the center of disputes between Seoul and Pyongyang as there had been several military conflicts between their navies over the decades.
Cheong Wa Dae said Friday the upcoming in-person meeting between Moon and Kim will mainly cover issues on how to further reduce military tensions and develop inter-Korean relations on multiple fronts.