By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL (Reuters) – North and South Korea held their first three-way talks with the United Nations Command (UNC) on Tuesday to discuss ways to demilitarise the border as the neighbours push for peace, South Korea’s defence ministry said.
The two Koreas agreed this week to begin reconnecting rail and road links, in spite of U.S. concerns that a rapid thaw in relations could undermine efforts to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
Tuesday’s meeting followed a summit between leaders of the two countries in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, last month.
The two leaders agreed to hold talks with the UNC, which overlaps with U.S. forces in the South and oversees affairs in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, to smooth the way to disarming one of the world’s most heavily fortified frontiers.
The meeting on Tuesday lasted for about two hours at the border village of Panmunjom, and was led by military officials of the rank of colonel from the two sides and Burke Hamilton, secretary of the UNC Military Armistice Commission, the ministry said.
“They discussed practical issues regarding demilitarisation steps to be conducted in the future,” the South Korean ministry said in a statement.
The steps they are aiming for range from withdrawing firearms and guard posts to reducing personnel and adjusting surveillance equipment, the ministry said, adding that the three-way channel would be used for more discussions.
General Vincent Brooks, who leads the United Nations Command, said the talks were designed to use existing means of managing issues along the DMZ to try to achieve the goals set out by the two Koreas.
“I am encouraged by this productive, trilateral dialogue,” Brooks said in a statement. Future meetings would move on to tackle the steps the two sides had set out, he said.
North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
As an initial step, the neighbours are looking to pull out 11 guard posts within 1 km (0.6-mile) of a Military Demarcation Line on their border by the end of the year.
They began removing land mines in several small areas this month and will build roads for a pilot project set for April to excavate the remains of soldiers missing from the Korean War.
Both sides will also withdraw all firearms from a Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom, cut to 35 each the numbers of personnel stationed there and share information on surveillance equipment.
Tourists will be allowed to go into the JSA.
The measures would transform the border into a “place of peace and reconciliation,” the ministry has said.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Stephen Coates and Clarence Fernandez)