By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL (Reuters) – North and South Korea agreed on Friday to “completely destroy” by next month 22 guard posts near their heavily fortified border, the latest advance in talks in the neighbours’ effort to defuse military tension, Seoul’s defence ministry said.
It follows a military pact at a summit last month in the North Korean capital that called for a halt to “all hostile acts,” a no-fly zone near the border and the gradual removal of guard posts, firearms and landmines from the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) separating the two.
As an initial step, the neighbours agreed to demolish 11 guard posts within 1 km (0.6 mile) of each side of the border and withdraw equipment and personnel stationed there by the end of November, the ministry said.
“The measures will be finished through mutual verification in December,” it said in a statement.
The talks were led by South Korean Army Major General Kim Do-gyun and North Korean Lieutenant General An Ik San at the border village of Panmunjom within the DMZ.
Both sides also discussed reinstating a joint military commission and forming a combined team to survey watercourses in the Han River their commercial ships could share.
The two sides also completed the removal of guard posts and firearms within the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom on Thursday, the ministry said.
In another development, the South’s military said it would stage two military drills next week.
That came after an agreement last week by Seoul and Washington to halt the Vigilant Ace air defence drills planned for December so as to give nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea every opportunity to continue, the Pentagon has said.
The allies delayed August’s major annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises.
To maintain defence readiness and boost military cooperation, South Korea has decided to carry out the Taeguk and Hoguk drills, its Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.
The former is a command post exercise from Monday to Friday, while the latter is a field manoeuvre exercise that starts on Monday, centred on a river east of the capital, Seoul.
“This year’s exercise is to sustain balanced defence posture and improve the practice effects, considering the suspension of the Ulchi Freedom Guardian,” the JCS said in a statement, referring to the annual exercise in which 17,500 U.S. forces joined South Korean troops last year.
The defence chiefs of South Korea and the United States will meet in Washington on Wednesday for an annual security consultative meeting, where they are expected to formally announce the suspension of the Vigilant Ace drills.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez)