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Ministry says 'no big differences' with UNC over inter-Korean military agreement

South Korea's defense ministry said Thursday that there are no big differences with the UN Command over the military part of the recent inter-Korean summit agreement aimed at reducing tensions and preventing accidental clashes.

Speculation has continued that the UNC, the enforcer of the armistice that halted the 1950-53 Korean War, appears uncomfortable with the fast pace of the inter-Korean peace drive given that there has been no tangible progress in Pyongyang's denuclearization.

The speculation was further reinforced after Gen. Robert Abrams, the nominee for UNC commander, told a Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday that "all activities" regarding the Demilitarized Zone are "under the purview of the UNC."

Defense Ministry’s spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo speaks during a press briefing at the Defense Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, March 20. (AP)
Defense Ministry’s spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo speaks during a press briefing at the Defense Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, March 20. (AP)

The inter-Korean military agreement includes pulling out some guard posts in the DMZ on a trial basis and disarming the Joint Security Area in the buffer zone, all of which are part of conventional arms control efforts to buttress cross-border rapprochement.

"As we said earlier, we have had close consultations with the UNC over the signing of the military agreement, including the withdrawal of guard posts," Choi Hyun-soo, the ministry's spokeswoman, told reporters.

"We also plan to continue multi-faceted consultations with the UNC in the process of implementing the agreement," she added.

Choi also said that, during his meeting with new South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo earlier this week, Deputy UNC Commander Lt. Gen. Wayne Eyre voiced his support for the military agreement between the two Koreas.

"We have taken (Eyre's remarks) as an indication that the UNC has shared an understanding on what has been progressing so far and will cooperate in areas where it can cooperate," the spokeswoman said.

During his confirmation hearing, Gen. Abrams clearly stated the role of the UNC in a move some observers said could reflect the US military's apparent unease over details of the inter-Korean military agreement.

Abrams, if appointed, will succeed Gen. Brooks as the commanders of the US Forces Korea and South Korea-US Combined Forces Command as well as of the UNC.

"While they may continue the dialogue, all of that would have to be brokered and adjudicated and observed and enforced by UN Command led by General Brooks and multinational forces there with 17 sending states," he said.

Soon after the inter-Korean military agreement, the UNC released a statement, saying it would "thoroughly" review the details of the agreement. The statement spawned speculation that the command had not been fully aware of the details. 

Meanwhile, the defense ministry said that it needs to hold further discussions with the North over flights of US choppers near the military demarcation line.

It made the remarks amid concerns that US aircraft's operations could be affected by the inter-Korean military agreement that sets a no-fly zone near the MDL.

"All aircraft, including the US planes, will be subject to the application of the no-fly zone," a ministry official said, declining to be named.

"But when it comes to the US choppers operating close to the MDL, that is a matter that we need to additionally discuss with the North," the official added.

A news report raised concerns that Camp Bonifas, a US-led UNC installation near the MDL, cannot carry out part of its missions, such as transporting patients or military supplies, due to the flight restriction. (Yonhap)

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