Seoul proposes removing all weapons from border ‘truce village’

South Korea has proposed that all weapons be removed from the Joint Security Area, the sector around the truce village of Panmunjeom in the centre of the Demilitarised Zone that has divided North and South Korea since 1953 and was less than a year ago the scene of a daring defection by a North Korean soldier. 

Jeong Kyeong-doo, who was named South Korea’s defence minister in late August, announced his plans to hold talks on the issue with North Korea and the United Nations Command, which oversees the Armistice Agreement that was reached at Panmunjeom in 1953 to cease hostilities in the Korean War.

Despite being known as the “truce village”, Panmunjeom has been the scene of a number of violent clashes even after the armistice was signed. 

In August 1976, North Korean guards attacked a UN Command work party within the JSA, killing two US Army officers, while more recently, in November 2017, a North Korean soldier defected by stealing a vehicle and driving through a series of checkpoints until it was immobilised just yards from the demarcation line. 

Oh Chong-song then fled across the border, despite being shot five times by his compatriots, and was later airlifted to a hospital to be treated for his injuries. Mr Oh said he defected on “an impulse”. 

The defence minister’s proposal is the latest in a series of measures designed to reduce military tensions along the 160-mile length of the DMZ and increase cross-border trust.

The aim, ultimately, is for North Korea to abolish its arsenal of nuclear weapons. 

Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, and Moon Jae-in, his South Korean counterpart, agreed in talks last week in Pyongyang to take a number of such confidence-building measures, including having engineers start to remove some of the millions of land mines laid in the DMZ over the first 20 days of October. 

The two sides have also agreed to stop military exercises near the border and shut down some of the border guard posts on both sides.