The armed forces of North and South Korea met on Monday to discuss removing weapons that threaten millions living in Seoul and restoring communication lines, the latest in the ongoing rapprochement between the two neighbours.
The South Korean prime minister, Lee Nak-yon, said the two sides had discussed relocating 1,000 pieces of artillery North Korea has deployed close to the border. Most of those are aimed at Seoul, home to about 25m people. Despite the danger, it is a fact of life to which many in the city have become accustomed.
Military officers from the two sides met at a customs, immigration, and quarantine office in South Korea, just south of the demilitarised zone separating the countries. The meeting follows discussion held this month that focused on “eliminating the danger of war on the Korean peninsula” and were the first inter-Korea military talks in a decade.
The talks were spurred by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s historic meeting with South Korean president Moon Jae-in in April, and seek to revive direct communication between the two militaries.
If successful, there would be a western and eastern line of communication, using telephones and fax machines to ensure misunderstandings do not lead to violent clashes. The western line was suspended in 2016 after Seoul shut the Kaesong industrial complex, where South Korean companies hired North Korean workers. The closure was in response to a North Korean rocket launch.
The eastern line was shut in 2011 in the wake of North Korea shelling an island in the South that killed two marines and two civilians. It was permanently severed by a wildfire in 2013. Both the eastern and western lines were established about 15 years ago.
The inter-Korean military talks come days after the US and South Korea announced the indefinite suspension of marine training exercises, part of Donald Trump’s pledge to halt military drills after meeting Kim.
The US is engaged in its own talks with North Korea over the repatriation of war dead from the 1950-53 Korean war. The US military has transported 100 wooden caskets to an area near the border with North Korea in the hope the remains can be returned as early as this week. About 7,700 US military personnel remain unaccounted for from the Korean war, US military data show.