Closer Inter-Korean Consultation for Removing Landmines

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Closer Inter-Korean Consultation for Removing Landmines

Since North and South Korea have agreed to link the severed leg of the rail between Seoul and Pyongyang, landmines buried near the railway will have to be removed. However, attention must be paid to the fact that the task of removing landmines in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) is not a simple matter of engineering, but also an important step in the easing of military tensions. Koreans are concerned that the level of trust between north and south is insufficient on either side to unilaterally resolve the issue of landmines. Therefore, the removal of landmines along the Seoul-Pyongyang railway must be conducted bilaterally and reciprocally. This action should be a foothold toward the further easing of military tensions and the establishing of trust.

In this respect, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) deserves criticism for its recent behavior. Three days ago an MND policy aide said that 1,000 troops would be deployed to remove landmines from the area where the railway will be restored. Yesterday, however, the MND spokesman contradicted the previous announcement by saying "It was not an official government position." Removing landmines from the 12-kilometer leg to the south of the armistice line is not simply a job that calls for a certain number of soldiers.

Some important considerations are: whether cooperation with the UN Command, which has jurisdiction over the area, has been worked out, whether there are other defensive contingencies in the absence of landmines and, most importantly, whether North Korea will take simultaneous corresponding measures. Sufficient discussion prior to the operation is required. Otherwise, it may give the impression of a unilateral disarmament.

Fortunately, when the two Koreas agreed to connect the railway during the inter-Korean ministerial talks at the end of last month, they promised to discuss related matters as soon as possible. There should be a meeting of railway construction personnel from both sides as well as representatives of the military, to discuss the methods and schedule of removing landmines. As it is, the Korean public feels regret and suspicion because of the fact that practical details of easing military tensions were excluded from both the Joint Declaration signed at the Korean summit and the joint press release of the inter-Korean ministerial talks. We hope that North and South Korea establish a committee to oversee the cooperation between the parties in removing the landmines. Going a step further, the committee could be used in the discussion of other military issues as well. If actual issues like the cost and technical aspects of the landmine removal operation are discussed, and if the US Forces in Korea, the principal of the UN Command, also participates, the existence of the committee itself would be a remarkable achievement toward peace.

It is estimated that around 1 million anti-personnel landmines populate the DMZ. The North and the South are leading nations in this regard - the two have yet to join the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel landmines. If the two nations embark on eliminating landmines in a bilateral and gradual way on the occasion of restoring the Seoul-Shinuiju railway, the international community would respond positively. The removal of landmines is a common task that can be discussed in the soon-to-be-opened North-South Liaison Office or the second ministerial talks slated for the end of this month. If things go well, the landmines along the Seoul-Shinuiju railway may be transformed from a symbol of division to a medium of peace

by Noh Jae-hyun

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