South and North Korean soldiers greet each other ahead of an inspection of a demolished North Korean GP in the central front of the DMZ in Cheorwon County
On Dec. 12, representatives from the South and North Korean armies crossed the military demarcation line (MDL) to visit each other’s guard posts (GPs). These visits were aimed at verifying the tentative withdrawal from and demolition of GPs in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in accordance to the Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) that the two sides reached on Sept. 19.
This was the first time since the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953 that South and North Korea have conducted inspections of each other’s military facilities. This is an indicator of a significant boost in the level of inter-Korean military confidence-building.
During the month of November, South and North Korea finished dismantling 10 GPs each and preserved the other two GPs mentioned in the agreement for their historical symbolism and conservation value. Wednesday’s inspection was carried out to confirm that the guard posts had actually been destroyed.
“North Korea suggested that we exchange photographs of the demolished GPs, but we strongly insisted on an in-site visit. North Korea seems to have been concerned about the tactical exposure of the current status of its GPs and their manner of operation,” said an official at South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense (MND).
At 9 am on Wednesday, the South Korean team of inspectors, in full military uniform, converged at the rendezvous points on the MDL. They had cameras dangling from their necks, shoulders and helmets and were wearing backpacks filled with verification equipment. At the appointed time, North Korean troops, who had arrived in advance, cleared away the yellow banners that were blocking the path and personally guided the South Korean team to the North Korean GPs.
For about 10 days at the beginning of this month, South and North Korea cleared mines in the DMZ and made a small path connecting South and North GPs to enable the mutual inspection. This basically means that 11 paths leading toward confidence-building have appeared in the DMZ, which has been a symbol of division, hostility and conflict. On Wednesday, South Korean soldiers walked down these paths and meticulously inspected 11 North Korean GPs. There were 11 teams composed of seven members (five inspectors and two photographers, led by a colonel), with each team visiting one GP. A total of 154 people took part in the inspections, 77 representing each side.
North and South Korean soldiers offer each other cigarettes in amicable atmosphere
The mood of the inspections on Wednesday was reportedly so amicable that soldiers on the two sides offered each other cigarettes. The South Korean inspectors began by confirming that all firearms, equipment and troops had been removed from the North Korean GPs and that all aboveground facilities, including observation posts and pillboxes, had been dismantled. They also verified that underground facilities, including passageways, entrances and barriers, had been filled in and destroyed. At the GPs that the two sides had agreed to preserve, inspectors verified that the troops and firearms had been properly removed and that the GPs had been rendered inoperable. South Korean inspectors even employed equipment such as ground-penetrating radar and endoscope cameras to insure that the underground facilities at the North Korean GPs had been properly eliminated. Even then, the inspectors reported, the North Korean troops actively cooperated without any signs of discomfort.
On Wednesday afternoon, North Korean teams of inspectors came to the southern side of the MDL to perform the same tasks. The MND said that this mutual inspection “used action to demonstrate the trust between the South and North Korean militaries that has been built during the process of implementing the military agreement.”
”Exemplary case that is extremely rare in the history of international arms control”
The MND described this as an “exemplary case that is extremely rare in the history of international arms control.” The South and North Korean militaries are planning to assess and analyze the precise results of the inspection of each GP based on what the joint teams of inspectors verified on the ground.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in watched a live broadcast of South and North Korea’s mutual on-site inspections at the Blue House’s Crisis Management Center on Wednesday afternoon. “The closure of the GPs and mutual inspections themselves are a new chapter in the 65-year history of the Korean Peninsula’s north-south division. South and North Korean troops walked along trails they’ve made in the DMZ, which was once the site of a tense military standoff, and they’ve shut down and transparently inspected GPs that had been part of that conflict – both of which were once unimaginable,” Moon said.
In a related development, an MND official announced on Wednesday that “South and North Korea are reviewing and deliberating the idea of setting up a liaison office in the DMZ to support the joint effort to recover MIA/POW remains that will be taking place between April and October of next year.” The two sides are expected to use the liaison office to carry out the preliminary steps to identity recovered remains.
By Noh Ji-won, staff reporter
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