South Korea has initiated a comprehensive examination of scenarios aimed at restoring guard posts in the Demilitarized Zone that were deactivated and dismantled in alignment with a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement, military sources said Wednesday.
One potential first step involves the restoration of a disarmed guard post, the structure of which has been exclusively preserved for historical purposes through mutual consent with North Korea.
South Korea has deemed it essential to implement countermeasures, recognizing the urgency prompted by North Korea's actions to restore 11 guard posts in the DMZ and deploy military personnel along with heavy firearms from Nov. 24.
In 2018, as part of the Sept. 19 Comprehensive Military Agreement, South Korea and North Korea dismantled 10 guard posts located within 1 kilometer of each other in the DMZ, covering the eastern, western and midland regions.
While one guard post, acknowledged for its historical significance, was preserved from each side, the withdrawal of all military personnel and equipment from the guard posts took place.
South Korea has maintained the external structure of a guard post in Goseong County, Gangwon Province, as a result.
The decision to prioritize the restoration of the specific guard post is grounded in its strategic significance in military operations, as well as the post's logistical convenience.
The Goseong guard post is the northernmost post in the eastern region. Notably, it is the closest guard post to the corresponding North Korean post, with a mere distance of 580 meters between them within the DMZ.
The North Korean military is also currently engaged in the restoration work of its guard post that is situated across from the Goseong post.
The option to restore the post also offers South Korea the advantage of redeploying military personnel and equipment without the need for rebuilding a new guard post.
The Goseong guard post, which was also the first such post established in South Korea after the signing of the armistice in 1953 that marked the end of the hostilities of the Korean War, was officially designated as a cultural asset by the Cultural Heritage Administration in 2019.
Consequently, a process involving coordination with the administration to lift the cultural heritage designation is required before initiating the restoration process.
"We kindly request your understanding that, in the interest of the safety of our military personnel and military security considerations, we are unable to disclose details regarding our military operational matters," the Defense Ministry said Wednesday in response to The Korea Herald's request for comment on the matter.
But military sources indicated that Seoul is also preparing for alternative scenarios, such as simultaneously restoring 11 guard posts, including 10 that were previously demolished.
Another option under consideration is to prioritize the reconstruction of dismantled guard posts if the procedure to remove the cultural heritage designation complicates the restoration process. This course of action would involve consulting with the United Nations Command, responsible for enforcing the 1953 armistice agreement.
North Korea's movements to restore guard posts have been detected, one day after the country publicly declared a complete annulment of the Sept. 19 military agreement on Nov. 23, according to South Korea's Defense Ministry.
North Korea's Defense Ministry pledged to retract all military measures designed for tension reduction and prevention of inadvertent conflicts on the ground, at sea, and in the air. Pyongyang vowed to "deploy more powerful armed forces and new-type military equipment along the military demarcation line."
North Korea's actions are in violation of the Sept. 19 agreement.
The South Korean military has also detected a surge in the number of gates opening up at coastal artillery bases, increasing from one or two in the past to over 10 at present. Each base is equipped with two coastal artillery units.
On-duty North Korean soldiers have started carrying pistols in the Joint Security Area in the DMZ, where soldiers from the two Koreas stand face to face along the low concrete border marker that divides them.