SEOUL, South Korea – The North Korean and South Korean military have completed the withdrawal of troops and firearms from 22 front posts on Saturday as they implement a far-reaching agreement in September to reduce tensions across the world's most fortified border, the South Defense Minister said.
South Korea believes that the military agreement is an important step towards building confidence, which would help stabilize peace and reconcile rivalry. However, critics say that the South risks giving up part of its conventional military strength before North Korea takes significant steps towards denuclearization – a worry that is growing as the major nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang seem to be stumbling.
South Korea is said to have about 60 guards – bunker-like concrete structures surrounded by barbed-wire fences and staffed with machine-gun and mortar soldiers – that stretch across the ironically demilitarized zone.
The 248-kilometer border buffer with millions of land mines had been the scene of occasional clashes between the two forces since the 1950-53 Korean War. It is believed that the North has about 160 sentries within the DMZ.
In the September military agreement, reached on the sidelines of a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang, the Koreas pledged to lift all sentinels within the DMZ, but to strike first 11 from each side as a "provisional" measure.
The South Korean Defense Minister said soldiers had disarmed eleven guards on the south side of the DMZ on Saturday. The ministry believes that the North has also completed the withdrawal of personnel and weapons from eleven sentries on the north side of the DMZ. He did not want to be named, citing the Rules of Procedure.
The Koreans plan to demolish the building by the end of November 20, with a demilitarized guard on each side. They plan to review the results together in December.
Also in the September Agreement, the Korea agreed to create buffer zones along its land and sea borders and a no-fly zone above the border, which came into force on 1 November.
The Korea and the US command U.N. Command recently completed the removal of firearms and troops from a jointly controlled area in the border town of Panmunjom and plans to allow tourists to move freely there. The Koreas have also cleared frontier mines, and in April they are planning their first joint search for remnants of soldiers killed during the Korean War.
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