DMZ propaganda loudspeakers to be removed

By Yeo Jun-suk
  • Published : Apr 30, 2018 - 16:05
  • Updated : Apr 30, 2018 - 18:28

With the two Koreas seeking to ease cross-border tensions following an inter-Korean summit, the South Korean military took the first step Monday by announcing a plan to remove propaganda loudspeakers along the border with North Korea.

Starting Tuesday, the propaganda loudspeakers are to be pulled back from the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone, where the two Koreas had blasted propaganda massages across the border via dozens of massive loudspeakers until they were suspended days before Friday’s summit.

The measure is a part of Seoul’s initial efforts to implement the summit agreements, in which President Moon Jae-in and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un pledged to cease hostile acts such as the loudspeaker broadcasts and sending propaganda leaflets, the military said.

“As an initial step to build trust on military issues, it is one of the easiest things to do,” said the Defense Ministry’s spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo, adding that North Korea had not been consulted on the measure in advance.

The Defense Ministry announced it would remove propaganda loudspeakers starting from Tuesday. The photo above shows the South Korean military doing away with components of propaganda loudspeakers installed along the border with North Korea in 2004.
Regarding the propaganda leaflets, Seoul‘s Unification Ministry is reportedly considering a plan to ban human rights activists from sending the papers, which the activists and conservatives claim as freedom of expression.

The announcement appears to have taken many observers by surprise as the withdrawal of the loudspeakers was expected to be discussed during upcoming high-level military talks between the two Koreas.

The spokesperson noted that the decision to withdraw the loudspeakers should be interpreted as a tacit agreement that is part of Moon and Kim’s agreement to do away with every means that could cause cross-border hostilities.

North Korea will soon pull back its own loudspeakers, whose operations were suspended last week following Seoul’s decision to turn off its loudspeakers in return for Pyongyang’s earlier pledge to halt nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, the military said.

“We expect North Korea to do the same as it did in response to our decision to shut down the loudspeaker broadcasts,” said the spokesperson. “We believe North Korea will follow through on the agreement.”

The propaganda broadcasts have been a source of cross-border tensions, which reached its peak in 2015 when the North threatened to attack the loudspeakers blaring criticism of Kim Jong-un. South Korea agreed to turn them off, but resumed again after the North conducted a nuclear test in 2016.

The conciliatory gesture is expected to set a positive tone before the upcoming inter-Korean military talks, in which general-level military officials are expected to discuss specific measures to implement the agreements of the summit.

In order to prevent miscalculations, the two Koreas’ leaders agreed to return the DMZ to its original state by pulling back each other’s troops and establishing a “peace zone” in the West Sea close to North Korea to avoid potential maritime skirmishes. 

The military said the upcoming military talks would address a “wide range of issues” including the measures to demilitarize the DMZ and conduct other joint projects with North Korea in the cross-border region.

“We have not specified any agenda item yet, but we will definitely discuss various issues,” the ministry’s spokesperson said. “We have started preparatory works and expect a success from the meeting.”

Returning the DMZ to its original state will require the two Koreas to abide by the armistice agreement of the Korean War, which prohibits the two sides from engaging in hostile acts until a peace settlement is achieved.  

The South Korean government is considering a plan to pull back its guard posts and heavy-fire weapons positioned along the border, but the process would take time as it requires consultation with the United Nations Command, which oversees the two Koreas’ activities inside the DMZ.

Other plans to be considered are nonmilitary measures such as launching joint projects with North Korea. Among them are plans to conduct joint rescue efforts in the event of wildfires, floods and other natural disasters inside the DMZ.