North, South Korea check work to ease
tension in 'milestone' step
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[December 12, 2018]
By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL (Reuters) - North and South Korean
officials inspected work to ease tension on their militarized border on
Wednesday, checking on the demolition of bunkers and probing for secret
tunnels, despite scant progress on persuading the North to give up
The two sides destroyed 11 guard posts within 1 km (0.6 mile) of each
side of the heavily fortified border and withdrew equipment and
personnel late last month, as a first step in a military pact reached in
September between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean
leader Kim Jong Un.
"Our verification team brought stethoscope-like equipment to see if
there were underground tunnels, but the North side did not stop them nor
express discomfort and actively cooperated," Moon's spokesman, Kim
Eui-kyeom, told a news briefing.
A year ago, such a joint operation by some 77 officials from the two
sides would have been unthinkable.
North Korea's repeated missile tests and its sixth and most powerful
nuclear test in September 2017, in defiance of U.N. and U.S. warnings,
had stirred fears of war.
But things have changed at a head-spinning pace over the past 12 months.
In a New Year message last year, Kim extended an olive branch to old
enemy South Korea, then sent a team to the Winter Olympics there in
February, and held three summits with Moon over the course of the year.
Kim also met U.S. President Donald Trump for an unprecedented summit in
Singapore in June.
Moon said the removal of the border guard posts and Wednesday's two-way
verification exercise marked a "new milestone" in the 65-year division
of the peninsula.
"It's something we couldn't even imagine in the past that the South and
the North build trails in the Demilitarized Zone where they confronted
each other, and pull out the guard posts and transparently verify it,"
Moon told aides after watching a broadcast of the inspection.
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Soldiers from North and South Korea verify the removal of guard
posts on each side of the Demilitarized Zone, December 12, 2018.
South Korean Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
Live video footage showed soldiers equipped with telescopes and
other equipment gathered at the Military Demarcation Line then
crossing the border together to visit the demolished posts on both
The soldiers checked that all firearms, personnel and lookout posts
were removed, and tunnels and other facilities destroyed, the
South's defense ministry said.
The atmosphere was "cordial" and soldiers chatted and shared
cigarettes, Moon's spokesman said.
Moon is hoping to host Kim in Seoul for their fourth summit, perhaps
as early as this month, but North Korea has been aloof amid stalled
nuclear talks with the United States.
North and South Korea are technically still at war because the
1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
Kim and Trump vowed in their June talks in Singapore to work toward
denuclearization, but they have made little progress.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Robert Birsel)
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