North and South Korea held their first three-way talks with the United Nations Command (UNC) on Tuesday to discuss ways to demilitarize the border as the neighbors push for peace, Seoul’s defense ministry said.
The two sides agreed this week to begin reconnecting rail and road links, in spite of U.S. concerns that a rapid thaw in relations could undermine efforts to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
Tuesday’s meeting followed their agreement at a summit in Pyongyang last month to hold talks with the UNC, which overlaps with U.S. forces in the South and oversees affairs in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), to smooth the way to disarming one of the world’s most heavily fortified frontiers.
The meeting lasted for about two hours at the border village of Panmunjom, and was led by military officials of the rank of colonel from each side, including Burke Hamilton, secretary of the UNC Military Armistice Commission, the ministry said.
“They discussed practical issues regarding demilitarization steps to be conducted in the future,” it said in a statement after the talks.
The steps ranged from withdrawing firearms and guard posts to reducing personnel and adjusting surveillance equipment, the ministry said, adding that the three-way channel would be used for further discussions.
North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, rather than a peace treaty.
As an initial step toward last month’s pact, the neighbors are looking to pull out 11 guard posts within a 1-km (0.6-mile) radius of the Military Demarcation Line by year end.
They began demining in several small areas this month and will build roads for a pilot project set for April to excavate the remains of soldiers missing from the Korean War.
Both sides will also withdraw all firearms from the Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom, cut to 35 each the numbers of personnel stationed there, in line with the armistice pact, and share information on surveillance gear.
Tourists will be allowed to freely access the JSA.
The measures, aimed to be adopted within one month, would transform the border into a “place of peace and reconciliation,” the ministry has said.
“Most of the operations will actually be executed by the two Koreas, but ensuring UNC support matters, as it has U.S. elements and also manages the Military Armistice Commission,” a South Korean military source said on condition of anonymity.