Koreas Begin Removing DMZ Mines to Ease Military Tensions

South Korean soldiers stand guard at the truce village of Panmunjom

South Korean soldiers stand guard at the truce village of Panmunjom

Troops from North and South Korea began removing some landmines along their heavily fortified border on Monday, the South's defence ministry said, in a pact to reduce tension and build trust on the divided peninsula.

North Korea and China have seen their ties improve recently after yearslong strained relations over the North's continued missile and nuclear provocations.

The agreement between the nations - which are technically still at war - to demine was reached at a meeting in Pyongyang last month between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un.

On Monday, units of South Korean army engineers with demining equipment were deployed to the border village of Panmunjom and another frontline area called "Arrow Head Hill" where the Koreas plan their first joint searches for soldiers killed during the 1950-53 Korean War.

"The DPRK is taking substantial and crucial steps to implement the joint statement made at the DPRK-US summit, but the US is still trying to subdue someone by resorting to sanctions", the unnamed commentary accused.

The North has for decades demanded that the United States formally declare the end of the 1950-53 conflict that was halted only with an armistice, saying an official end to the war would ease tensions on the flashpoint peninsula.

The official refused to provide more details. North Korea is thought to have placed 800,000 to one million landmines on the north side.

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Consider the speeches the South Korean president delivered in North Korea last month.

The JSA is the only area along the 155-mile long demilitarized zone, or DMZ, where troops from both countries are face to face. It is believed that there are tens of thousands of landmines in the two areas to be cleared. Many South Korean mines are also believed to have been dislodged due to flooding or landslides. A 2015 DMZ mine explosion blamed on North Korea that maimed two South Korean soldiers pushed the rivals to the brink of an armed conflict.

North Korea is estimated to have up to 60 nuclear weapons, a South Korean official said on Tuesday, the first public announcement about the hermit kingdom's secret arsenal.

Meanwhile, on Monday, South Korea held a ceremony marking the recent return of remains of 64 South Korean soldiers missing from the Korean War.

Pungsans are designated a North Korean "natural monument".

South Korean troops have gradually taken over most operations along the DMZ, but worldwide forces under the US-led United Nations Command (UNC) retain major roles, especially at the JSA, where an American commander and a South Korean deputy lead the security battalion. He also said the north is committed to helping maintain "long lasting peace and prosperity" on the peninsula.

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