DMZ excavations may start without the North

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DMZ excavations may start without the North

South Korea will independently begin spadework to excavate Korean War remains in the demilitarized zone next week in the absence of a North Korean response to its call to conduct what is meant to be a joint project, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said Friday.

Under last year’s bilateral military accord aimed at reducing tensions and building trust, Seoul and Pyongyang agreed to carry out the project on Arrowhead Ridge, a notorious battle site during the 1950-53 conflict, from April through October.

But the North has remained silent about Seoul’s request to start the excavation as planned. It has appeared lukewarm about the enforcement of the military accord since the summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, collapsed in Hanoi, Vietnam, last month.

“[South Korea] plans to start conducting additional demining operations and basic excavation work [in the ridge] south of the military demarcation line on April 1,” the ministry said in a press release.

“[The independent work] is designed to prepare in advance for the inter-Korean joint excavation project that the two sides are set to carry out in the Arrowhead Ridge area under the Sept. 19 military accord,” it added.

The two Koreas’ defense chiefs signed the military accord at the close of the third summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim in Pyongyang last September. It entails a series of confidence-building and arms control measures.

Under the accord, the two sides were supposed to exchange lists of the staff for the excavation project by the end of February. But they missed the deadline as Pyongyang was preoccupied with the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi.

Seoul sent the list of its own excavation staff to Pyongyang on March 6, but the communist regime has yet to respond.

The Defense Ministry also said that it will put on hold a decision to allow full civilian access to the Han River estuary until the two Koreas work out detailed plans for free navigation along the waterway where civilian access has been restricted due to military tensions.

The military accord also includes a decision to seek military measures to ensure the safety of the Han River estuary that ship operators have hoped to use for tourism, ecological protection and the collection of construction aggregate.

In January, the two sides agreed to start allowing civilian ships to navigate through the estuary on a trial basis in April.

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