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(Yonhap Feature) Inter-Korean summit preparation underway at border truce village

All Headlines 11:00 March 28, 2018

By Kim Soo-yeon

PANMUNJOM, Korea, March 28 (Yonhap) -- The border truce village of Panmunjom, surrounded by inter-Korean tensions, is set to greet a special guest in late April -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will make a rare crossing of the border for an inter-Korean summit.

Panmunjom, a site that symbolizes inter-Korean division, is likely to become a historic venue for reconciliation as South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim will meet here next month.

The leaders plan to hold a summit at the Peace House, a venue for inter-Korean talks, on the southern side of the truce village that sits inside the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas.

Panmunjom, some 60 kilometers northwest of Seoul, is the place where the Armistice Agreement was signed after the 1950-53 Korean War ended. The two Koreas remain technically at war as the conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

This photo shows the Peace House, a venue for inter-Korean talks on the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone that bisects the two Koreas. (pool photo) (Yonhap)

South and North Korean guards stand face-to-face at the Joint Security Area (JSA), a small strip of land at Panmunjom that is supervised by the United Nations Command.

In November last year, a North Korean solider made a rare, dramatic defection to the South via the JSA, while sustaining gun shots from his comrades.

Now, the tightly-controlled zone is gearing up for a planned visit by Kim Jong-un for dialogue after more than a year of heightened tensions sparked by the North's nuclear and missile programs.

It would mark the first time that an inter-Korean summit will be held at Panmunjom. Two previous summits in 2000 and 2007 were held in Pyongyang.

South and North Korea have two buildings each at Panmunjom -- one a conference hall and the other a building that houses a liaison office for inter-Korean border communication.

The South is currently renovating the Peace House to greet North Korean delegates, including works on Internet connection and other functions.

The Peace House is a three-story conference building that was set up in 1989 on the southern side of the JSA. Its North Korean counterpart is the Tongilgak building that was built in 1985 as the venue for inter-Korean dialogue.

The two Koreas have held more than 650 talks since 1971 and nearly 55 percent of the talks were held at Panmunjom, according to Seoul's unification ministry.

This photo, provided by South Korea's unification ministry on Jan. 3, 2018, shows a South Korean liaison official using a border communication hotline to communicate with his North Korean counterpart. (Yonhap)

Reporters who visited the truce village on Tuesday were denied access to the conference building. Several workers were spotted using water to clean an outside entrance of the building.

"It is not a large-scale renovation. But there are difficulties for reporters to look around the building as repair works are underway," said an official at Seoul's unification ministry.

It would take an estimated less than three hours for the North Korean delegation to drive to Panmunjom from Pyongyang, the ministry said.

It is not known how Kim Jong-un will cross the border, but two ways -- either on foot or by car -- are theoretically possible.

After a vehicle carrying Kim passes over the so-called 72-hour bridge leading to the northern side of the JSA, Kim may walk a pathway between two blue buildings straddling the border in the JSA, called T1 and T2. The T stands for temporary.

He could also choose to cross the border by car. A vehicle can stop in front of the Peace House in the South after passing a road near Panmungak, a North Korean building that hosts its liaison office.

"Those two ways are possible routes. But things are subject to change as details will be decided upon inter-Korean agreements," said a ministry official.

The two Koreas are running key hotlines installed at their liaison offices at Panmunjom.

They agreed to set up liaison offices in May 1992 and two direct telephone lines were opened at the offices. A total of 33 communication lines are installed between the two Koreas.

The South's office is located in the Freedom House and the North's is placed at the Panmungak building. They stand opposite each other across the border at the JSA.

North Korea reopened the border hotline in January after a two-year disconnection after Kim Jong-un extended a rare rapprochement to Seoul in his New Year's speech. The North sent athletes, musicians and cheerleaders to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Pyongyang severed the border communication and military channels in February 2016 to protest Seoul's shutdown of a joint industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong.

After the restoration of the hotline, liaison officials said that they had been busy discussing details about North Korea's participation in the Olympics. These days, they are communicating for high-level talks, slated for Thursday, and the April summit.

On weekdays, the Panmunjom channels run from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. On the weekend, they can be switched on if both sides agree for communication.

"Since January, it is fair to say that there is no closing hour. Daily contacts have often continued after 7:00 p.m.," said a ministry official. "Over weekends, the two Koreas are maintaining communication these days."

This file photo shows South and North Korean guards standing face-to-face at the Joint Security Area (JSA), a small strip of land of the truce village of Panmunjom. (Yonhap)


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