The North and South Korean military completed withdrawing troops and firearms from 22 front-line guard posts on Saturday as they continue to implement a wide-ranging agreement reached in September to reduce tensions across the world’s most fortified border, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said.
South Korea says the military agreement is an important trust-building step that would help stabilize peace and advance reconciliation between the rivals. But critics say the South risks conceding some of its conventional military strength before North Korea takes any meaningful steps on denuclearization — an anxiety that’s growing as the larger nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang seemingly drift into a stalemate.
South Korea reportedly has about 60 guard posts — bunker-like concrete structures surrounded with layers of barbed-wire fences and manned by soldiers equipped with machine guns — stretched across the ironically named demilitarized zone, while the North is believed to have about 160 guard posts within the 155-mile border buffer DMZ.
The Koreas plan to destroy 20 of the structures by the end of November, while symbolically leaving one demilitarized guard post on each side. They plan to jointly verify the results in December. In the September deal, the Koreas also agreed to create buffer zones along their land and sea boundaries and a no-fly zone above the border, which took effect on Nov. 1.
The Koreas and the U.S.-led U.N. Command recently finished removing firearms and troops from a jointly controlled area at the border village of Panmunjom and eventually plan to allow tourists to freely move around there. The Koreas have also been clearing mines from front-line areas and plan to start in April their first-ever joint search for remains of soldiers killed during the Korean War.