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(6th LD) Two Koreas reach key agreement to reduce military tensions

All Headlines 16:00 September 19, 2018

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 9-10)

SEOUL/PYONGYANG, Sept. 19 (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap) -- The two Koreas agreed Wednesday to set maritime, air and ground buffer zones in front-line areas as part of efforts to reduce military tensions, prevent accidental clashes and build trust.

They also agreed to halt military drills near the military demarcation line (MDL), withdraw some border guard posts, disarm the Joint Security Area in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and jointly excavate war remains in the buffer zone.

These measures are included in the agreement that Defense Minister Song Young-moo and his North Korean counterpart, No Kwang-chol, signed after the Pyongyang summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The agreement is part of efforts to flesh out the military part of the April inter-Korean summit accord that calls for halting "all hostile acts" against each other and "practically eliminate the danger of war."

A joint military committee will be operated to check the enforcement of the agreement.

"(The two sides) have decided to completely halt all hostile acts in all spaces, land, sea and air, and agreed on concrete measures to implement the decision," Seoul's defense ministry said in a press release.

Under the agreement, the two Koreas will set up a 10-kilometer-wide buffer zone with the MDL as the standard line. Within the zone, artillery drills and regiment-level field maneuvers will be suspended. The two sides have exchanged fire along the border 96 times since the armistice was signed, halting the Korean War in 1953.

They will also set a maritime buffer zone spanning around 80 km in the East and West Seas to prevent unintended naval clashes. In the zone, artillery firing and naval drills will be suspended, while routine patrol operations near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), a de facto maritime border, and efforts to protect fishing activities will continue.

The bilateral agreement also reaffirmed the April decision to designate a "maritime peace zone" near the NLL in the West Sea and set a joint fishing area. The two sides will work out details at their joint military committee, but tough negotiations are expected given their differences on the sea line.

Pyongyang has long disputed the NLL on the grounds that it was unilaterally drawn by the U.S.-led U.N. Command after the Korean War.

To prevent accidental aircraft clashes, the two sides will set a 40 km-wide no-fly zone along the western part of the MDL and a 80 km-wide one along the eastern side. But they set exceptions for emergencies, such as when aircraft need to be used to extinguish wildfires or transport patients.

To transform the DMZ into a "peace zone," they will each pull out 11 guard posts on a trial basis by the end of this year and halt drills targeting each other near the MDL starting Nov. 1.

They will start a monthlong process to disarm the JSA following a 20-day landmine removal operation set to begin Oct. 1.

The joint project to retrieve war remains in the DMZ is set to take place in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, from April 1, 2019, to Oct. 31 following the removal of landmines and other explosives later this year.

The two Koreas, in addition, agreed to devise military measures to jointly use the Han River estuary where civilian access has been restricted due to inter-Korean tensions.

While announcing the outcome of his summit with Kim, Moon said that the two Koreas had agreed to remove "all threats across the peninsula" that could trigger war.

Defense Minister Song Young-moo (L) and his North Korean counterpart, No Kwang-chol, sign an agreement on reducing tensions in Pyongyang on Sept. 19, 2018, in this photo captured from a screen at the press center in Seoul. (Yonhap)

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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