The militaries of the two Koreas inspected each other’s military facilities in a heavily fortified border region Wednesday for the first time since the end of the Korean War, verifying work that took place last month to remove 22 front-line guard posts under an agreement between the two sides.
According to the Ministry of National Defense, the verification process began at around 9 a.m., after a team of South Korean inspectors crossed the Military Demarcation Line and met with their North Korean counterparts at a cross-border region marked with a yellow flag.
North Korea began its verification work in the afternoon at the former site of the South’s guard posts. The North’s inspectors crossed the MDL at around 2 p.m. and returned home at around 5 p.m. Both teams traveled along a cross-border path that connects the two Koreas’ guard posts.
|The two Koreas` military inspection teams shake hands at a cross-border region marked with a yellow flag Wednesday. Yonhap|
“It is the first time that the two Koreas’ active-duty soldiers have built a path inside the Demilitarized Zone and traveled peacefully over the MDL,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. “It shows the commitment of the two Koreas’ militaries to fulfilling the agreement.”
Last week, the two Koreas’ militaries agreed to verify each other’s work and make sure that all 22 guard posts had been completely removed. Guard soldiers and fire ammunition were pulled back last month following the inter-Korean summit in September.
The South’s inspectors sought to verify that North Korea had taken “irreversible measures” for dismantlement when it exploded its guard posts last month. The inspectors used a stethoscope-like machine to confirm that the tunnels connecting the North’s posts were destroyed.
Concern had persisted among some security experts here as to whether the guard posts had been “completely destroyed.” The North’s posts are believed to have been connected to underground tunnels, which may have allowed the posts to withstand the blasts.
“During the on-site inspection of the North’s guard posts, we will verify the burial and destruction of the underground facilities, including entrances to the underground tunnels and barriers to the entrances,” the Defense Ministry said.
President Moon Jae-in was briefed by the South Korean military that the North were very cooperative when the South’s inspection team brought a stethoscope-like machine to check for underground facilities, Moon’s spokesperson Kim Eui-kyeom said.
According to Kim, the inspection process proceeded in an “amicable atmosphere.” The two Koreas’ inspection teams even exchanged cigarettes when the South’s inspectors verified the North’s removal of guard posts.
Moon was briefed about the inspection by military leaders as he watched the process in an underground bunker together with his staff at around 3 p.m.
“Withdrawing the guard posts and inspecting the work in a transparent manner was unimaginable in the past. I think it is an exemplary case of military confidence-building measure for the international community,” Moon was quoted as saying by his spokesperson.
Following the inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang in September, the defense chiefs of the two Koreas pledged to remove all guard posts inside the DMZ, starting with the 22 guard posts within 1 kilometer of the MDL as a “preliminary measure.”
While the two Koreas pledged to completely destroy the posts after signing a comprehensive military agreement following the inter-Korean summit, they decided to preserve one post on each side for their historic value.
According to defense officials here, before the removal, North Korea operated about 160 guard posts inside the DMZ along the 250-kilometer-long swath of land. The South Korean military is believed to have operated 60 guard posts within the DMZ.