The two Koreas and the US-led United Nations Command held talks Tuesday on demilitarising a section of the heavily fortified border dividing the peninsula, as a diplomatic thaw gathers pace.
“The three parties examined the progress in removing landmines at the Joint Security Area (JSA)…and discussed other practical matters regarding steps toward disarming the area,” Seoul’s defense ministry said in a statement.
The JSA, also known as the truce village of Panmunjom, is the only spot along the tense, 250-kilometer frontier where troops from the two countries stand face to face.
It was a designated neutral zone until the “axe murder incident” in 1976, when North Korean soldiers attacked a work party trying to chop down a tree inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), leaving two US army officers dead.
South and North Korea — which are technically still at war — agreed to take measures to ease military tensions on their border at a meeting in Pyongyang last month between President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un.
Earlier this month, the two sides began removing landmines at the JSA — which is now often used for talks between the two Koreas — as part of the deal, and are due to withdraw “unnecessary” surveillance equipment once the landmine work is completed.
The September summit was the third this year between the leaders as a remarkable rapprochement takes hold on the peninsula.
Moon has advocated engagement with the isolated North to nudge it toward denuclearisation.
During his summit with Kim last month, the two men also agreed to remove some guard posts at the border by the end of the year and to halt military drills in the area from November.
Tuesday’s talks were the first meeting of a trilateral JSA commission made up of the two Koreas and the UN Command, which is included as it retains jurisdiction over the southern half of the JSA.
Its chief, US general Vincent Brooks, told reporters in August that as UN commander he supported initiatives that could reduce military tensions.
But he added that as commander of the combined US-South Korean forces — one of his other roles — he felt there was a “reasonable degree of risk” in Seoul’s plans to dismantle guard posts near the DMZ.