South to remove 10 border posts on trial basis

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South to remove 10 border posts on trial basis

Defense Minister Song Young-moo said Tuesday that Seoul will withdraw about 10 border guard posts on a trial basis in line with the April inter-Korean summit agreement to transform the demilitarized zone (DMZ) into a “peace zone.”

Song did not give a specific timeline for the measure, which is aimed at reducing military tensions and building trust with the communist state, but noted that Pyongyang will also take reciprocal steps in the buffer zone separating the two Koreas.

“What it means is that we will withdraw one or two guard posts first and then additional ones,” Song told a session of the National Assembly’s defense committee.

“The [South’s] closest guard post lies about 700 meters [766 yards] away [from the North’s] ... We will start pulling out the guard posts that are within 1 kilometer [0.62 miles],” the minister added.

During their general-grade military talks last month, the two Koreas shared their “understanding” on fostering peace in the DMZ, such as pulling out guard posts, disarming the Joint Security Area and jointly excavating remains of fallen troops.

In their summit in April, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to “carry out disarmament in a phased manner, as military tension is alleviated and substantial progress is made in military confidence building.”

Seoul and Pyongyang have recently taken some trust-building measures, such as fully restoring their military communication channels.

The Defense Ministry on Tuesday returned to its original plan to deploy seven batteries of surface-to-air Cheolmae II missile interceptors, after it indicated this plan could be scaled back.

The ministry said that to build capabilities to counter North Korea’s missile threats and strengthen the foundation for the country’s defense exports, it decided to stick to the original plan for the deployment, which is expected to occur from 2021-2023.

Last month, Defense Minister Song said his ministry is considering carrying out the deployment plan in two phases, while hinting that the second phase could be scrapped should a new, better weapons system replace the Cheolmae II.

His remarks sparked a flurry of speculation that the minister, a retired admiral, is seeking to reduce the deployment plan in line with ongoing inter-Korean peace efforts or to introduce other missile systems that can be run by the Navy.

“There is a need to deploy the Cheolmae II as originally planned given that the threats from the North’s Scud missiles, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, still exist,” a ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

“This will also help the South Korean military build its core capabilities to retake wartime operational control [from the United States],” the official added.

The Cheolmae II interceptor is capable of shooting down an incoming target at an altitude of around 20 kilometers. It is seen as the centerpiece of the Korea Air and Missile Defense system that Seoul has been pushing for to counter Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile threats.

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