South Korea Military Hopes for Breakthrough Talks with North Korea

Kyung Ho Kim, April 20, 2018, 8:40 a.m.

South Korea's military said Friday the inter-Korean summit talks next week may lead the two Koreas to let their guards down along the heavily fortified border. The South's President Moon Jae-in is scheduled to meet with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong-un, at the border village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone (DMZ) on April 27. Among key agenda items are denuclearization and ways to reduce military tensions.

Some have floated the idea of the two sides withdrawing heavy weapons and guard posts (GPs) from the DMZ that bisects the peninsula. A senior Ministry of National Defense official said it's not an easy task but discussing the issue could be a "meaningful first step." The official was briefing reporters on the ministry's position on to what is set to be the third inter-Korean summit.

It is unprecedented for the leaders of the Koreas to sit down together in the DMZ. The South has more than 60 GPs there, versus around 160 run by the North, according to an informed source. Even if the leaders strike an agreement on the border, it would take a relatively long time to implement it, added the ministry official.

The official also said it's important to protect the natural environment of the DMZ, a no man's land. It would be of great help in protecting the DMZ from disaster even to just have free access for the Korea Forest Service's helicopters, the official said.

Regarding the hotline between the leaders that was connected Friday, the official said it is expected to help prevent a crisis escalating from a "misunderstanding," adding that was a cause for a third of all wars around the world.

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