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(LEAD) Unification minister visits Panmunjom just days after DMZ gunfire

All News 16:54 May 06, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES photo; ADDS quotes, more info throughout; CORRECTS 2nd para to say tour program was suspended since African swine fever outbreak, not coronavirus outbreak)

SEOUL, May 6 (Yonhap) -- Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul visited the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom on Wednesday, just days after South and North Korea exchanged gunfire at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two sides.

The unification ministry said Kim's visit was not related to the recent gunfire and was aimed at assessing preparations for the planned resumption of tours to the truce village, which have been suspended since the outbreak of African swine fever last year.

On early Sunday, four bullets from the North hit the South's guard post in the central part of the DMZ in Cherwon, prompting South Korean troops to respond by firing back and issuing broadcast warnings, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

South Korea has lodged a protest over the incident and demanded an explanation from the North, but Pyongyang has yet to respond to the call. The South Korean military earlier said the firings do not appear to have been intentional.

Kim's trip also included a visit to the former site of a guard post in the border town of Paju, which was demolished in accordance with an inter-Korean military accord signed in September 2018. It is part of a hiking trail run by the government, which has also remained closed since the animal disease outbreak.

"The guard post the minister is visiting is located far away from (where the incident took place) and the visit was planned in advance," ministry spokesperson Yoh Sang-key told a regular press briefing earlier on the day.

The government will soon decide when to resume the tour program following the minister's trip, Yoh said.

"The historic mission to make the demilitarized zone -- which has turned into a heavily militarized zone -- literally demilitarized won't be realized overnight," the minister said in a Facebook post. "(I) will do my best so that peace in everyday life will bloom at any place despite any cold weather or rainstorm."

The U.S.-led United Nations Command said on its Facebook account it is working closely with the South Korean government and that it will "update the public on any areas in the #DMZ where the ROK government lifts its #ASF containment restrictions."

ROK stands for the South's official name, the Republic of Korea.

South Korea reported two more cases of the new coronavirus Wednesday, marking no local new infections for the third consecutive day amid relaxed social distancing. The nation's total number of infections stood at 10,806, including 255 deaths.

Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul (L) visits the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom on May 6, 2020, in this photo provided by his office. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


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