Koreas remove guns, guard posts from Panmunjom border truce village

South Korean and US Army soldiers standing guard at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, on Sept 7, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - The two Koreas are removing all firearms and guard posts from a Cold War era truce village where armed soldiers have stared each other down for decades, Seoul's Defence Ministry announced on Thursday (Oct 25).

The Joint Security Area - also known as the truce village of Panmunjom - has historically been both a flashpoint and a key location for diplomacy between the two Koreas ever since their split in 1953.

It is the only spot along the tense, 250km frontier where soldiers from North Korea and the United States-led United Nations Command stand face to face.

Now, guards will start disarming from Friday, ministry spokesman Choi Hyun-soo said, part of a recent diplomatic thaw between the two foes that has gathered pace.

"I am aware that it is going according to plan," Ms Choi told reporters.

Panmunjom was where the armistice that halted the bitter Korean War was signed.

It was a designated neutral zone until the "axe murder incident" in 1976, when North Korean soldiers attacked a work party trying to chop down a tree inside the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), leaving two US army officers dead.

Once demilitarised, the JSA will be guarded by 35 unarmed personnel from each side, and "freedom of movement" will be allowed for visitors and tourists, according to a military pact signed between the two Koreas last month.

South and North Korea - which are technically still at war - agreed to take measures to ease military tensions on their border at a meeting in Pyongyang last month between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The two sides finished removing landmines at the JSA - which has been increasingly used for talks between the two Koreas - last week, as part of the deal.

The September summit was the third this year between the leaders as a remarkable rapprochement takes hold on the peninsula. Mr Moon has advocated engagement with the isolated North to nudge it toward denuclearisation.

The two Koreas and the UN Command (UNC), which is included, as it retains jurisdiction over the southern half of the JSA, will conduct a joint verification until Saturday.

The UNC chief, US General Vincent Brooks, told reporters in August that as UN commander, he supported initiatives that could reduce military tensions.

But he added that, as commander of the combined US-South Korean forces - one of his other roles - he felt there was a "reasonable degree of risk" in Seoul's plans to dismantle guard posts near the DMZ.

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