JSA ‘peace zone’ is held hostage by Pyongyang

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JSA ‘peace zone’ is held hostage by Pyongyang

The leaders of the two Koreas agreed in a summit last September to disarm the Joint Security Area (JSA) and allow civilians freedom of movement within the zone.

But that plan is threatened as North Korea and the United Nations Command are locking horns over who will overlook the area’s administration after the transformation.

Multiple South Korean government officials told the JoongAng Ilbo Thursday on the condition of anonymity that North Korea wants the JSA to be managed only by the two Koreas, whereas the U.S.-led United Nations Command, which currently administers the JSA as per the 1953 armistice agreement, refuses to relinquish its role.

Seoul proposed the idea of managing the JSA with North Korea by having the UN Command delegate its authority to the South, but that idea was shot down by the UN Command, the sources said. Some critics believe Pyongyang is scheming to sabotage Washington’s alliance with Seoul and use it as a political boon back home.

The contretemps has its source in a military pact the two Koreas signed last Sept. 19 during the third summit of the leaders of South and North Korea last year. In that pact, the two countries agreed to remove weapons from the JSA as part of a mission to transform it into “a place of peace and harmony” and allow people to freely move about.

But conspicuously missing from the agreement was who would be in charge of managing the new “peace zone.” That was to be decided later among both Koreas and the United Nations Command once the disarmament process was finalized.

One South Korean diplomatic source said all preparations for allowing civilian free movement were “practically over” but that the historic moment was being delayed due to discrepancies on how to manage the area. Another government source said the last time that all three sides physically met to discuss the issue was on Nov. 13, when they convened at the JSA in a lower-level discussion group. The two Koreas are faxing each other documents through military communication lines in an effort to reach an agreement on the JSA’s administration, “but it’s not easy,” the official confessed.

A former South Korean government official said Seoul and Pyongyang had engaged in an intense tug-of-war on the JSA’s administration before they signed the Sept. 19 agreement but that North Korea threw in the towel at the last minute when it agreed to discuss the issue with the United Nations Command in the future.

After the Sept. 19 military pact was signed, Choi Jong-kun, South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s secretary for peace and arms control, told reporters that Seoul had to negotiate with Pyongyang for “an extremely long period” to have the words “United Nations Command” included in the joint agreement.

Moon Seong-mook, chief of the Unification Strategy Center at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, accused the Pyongyang regime of trying to undermine the armistice agreement and, in the long run, aim for withdrawing American troops from South Korea.

BY LEE CHUL-JAE, LEE KEUN-PYUNG [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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