A small step on a long journey took place Monday as South Korean and North Korean troops began clearing some of the mines in the Demilitarized Zone between the two nations.
“It’s the start of peace,” said Kim Ki-ho, head of the private Korea Mine Clearance Research Institute, CBS reported. “We have to remove those mines, though we are not taking out all the mines at the DMZ.”
Official estimates peg the number of mines that might be inside the DMZ at around 2 million, but there is also widespread consensus that the real number might even be greater.
Mines began to sprout in the DMZ after the 1953 armistice that ended combat in the Korean War.
On Monday, soldiers began removing mines in the Joint Security Area near the village of Panmunjom as well as another area known as Arrow Head Hill.
Digging up the mines was among the action steps agreed to by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at their summit meeting last month.
“We have started a bold journey toward a permanent peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said Monday, which is celebrated as South Korea’s Armed Forces Day, The New York Times reported.
Moon cautioned against false hopes of an easy path.
“Because this is a road never traveled before, it’s difficult to predict what trouble we may encounter along the way,” he said.
Mines in the Joint Security Area are scheduled to be removed over the next 20 days. Another major change is the support to follow: Instead of the armed troops who have been watching each other, unarmed troops will staff the borders, and existing guard posts will be removed, Fox News reported.
Mine clearing at Arrow Head Hill may be followed by recovery of the remains of soldiers killed there.
South Korea estimates 300 South Korean, French and U.S. soldiers’ remains are in the area, along with soldiers from Chinese and North Korea.
Not everyone is a believer that removing mines is a safe step while the two nations are still officially at war.
— Military Times (@MilitaryTimes) October 1, 2018
“I think it’s the worst-ever South-North Korean agreement that made a concession in our defense posture before (North Korean) denuclearization is achieved,” Shin Wonsik, a former vice chairman of the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week, according to Military Times.
American troops are on standby, a commander said.
“United States Forces Korea will perform a support role — to include having air medical evacuation assets available to respond within minutes of any potential medical emergencies,” United Nations Command spokesman Colonel Chad Carroll told Reuters.
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