The Defense Ministry said Tuesday it will seek to withdraw troops and equipment from guard posts inside the Demilitarized Zone, pledging to transform the heavily fortified area into a symbol of peace between the two Koreas.
In a briefing to lawmakers, the Ministry of National Defense said the withdrawal plan would be sought “on a trial basis” until the conditions are in place for a complete withdrawal, following environmental and historical research on the cross-border region.
A view of Camp Humphreys, a US Forces Korea base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, in this file photo. (AP-Yonhap)
The ministry said the measure is part of efforts to implement the Panmunjom Declaration made at the inter-Korean summit on April 27. President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to cease all forms of hostilities and replace the current armistice with a peace agreement.
“The ministry is seeking to reduce the number of personnel for guard posts, adjust the number of heavy-fire equipment and resume free exchange of people,” the ministry said in a document submitted to the parliamentary defense committee.
“Following the withdrawal of (troops and equipment) from the DMZ on a trial basis, the ministry will push for a complete withdrawal in line with research on environment conditions and historical sites.”
Under the armistice agreement signed after the 1950-53 Korean War, the two Koreas are prohibited from military activities deemed hostile to each other. Yet the two Koreas have increased their military presence, at times engaging in provocations.
While expectations were high that the two Koreas would take specific steps to return the heavily fortified DMZ to its original state, a series of inter-Korean military talks held since the Moon-Kim summit have failed to make any significant breakthrough.
The Defense Ministry also pledged to launch a joint program with North Korea and the US to excavate war remains inside the DMZ, adding that it would consider a plan to have South Korea involved with efforts to excavate US war remains inside North Korea.
“In order to simultaneously implement the Panmunjom Declaration and the Sentosa Agreement (from the first-ever US-North Korea summit), the Defense Ministry will push for a joint excavation program among the two Koreas and the US,” the ministry said.
By Yeo Jun-suk (email@example.com)