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NK activity increases at Panmunjom after inter-Korean military deal scrapped: NNSC generals

Dec. 10, 2023 - 09:31 By Yonhap
Maj. Gen. Lena Persson Herlitz (left), the head of the Swedish delegation of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, and Maj. Gen. Ivo Burgener, the head of the NNSC's Swiss delegation, pose for photos at the Joint Security Area Visitor Center at Camp Bonifas, just south of the Demilitarized Zone, separating the two Koreas. (Yonhap)

North Korea has increased activities in the truce village of Panmunjom after effectively scrapping an inter-Korean military tension reduction agreement last month, Swedish and Swiss military generals overseeing the armistice said.

Maj. Gen. Lena Persson Herlitz and Maj. Gen. Ivo Burgener of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission made the remark in an interview with Yonhap News Agency, expressing concern the scrapping of the Comprehensive Military Agreement could increase the risks of military miscalculation.

"The intention of (the CMA) was to advance the Armistice Agreement, and, of course, there will be increased risk if there are no buffer zones," Herlitz of the Swedish delegation said during the interview held Thursday at Camp Bonifas, just south of the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas.

"It's always good to have rules, and hopefully both sides follow them," she said.

Burgener, the Swiss general, said he saw "more soldiers" and "more movement" on the North Korean side of the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom two weeks ago. Asked to elaborate, Herlitz said, "More activities, but no details."

That is when the North said on Nov. 23 that it will restore all military measures halted under the 2018 agreement, after the South suspended part of the deal in protest of the North's successful launch of a military spy satellite on Nov. 21.

Disarming the JSA was one of the points of the agreement, along with withdrawing border guard posts within 1 kilometer of the border, banning military drills and maneuvers near the land and sea borders, and establishing no-fly zones along the border.

Since scrapping the accord, the North has begun reinstalling guard posts and deploying heavy arms within the DMZ, according to the South's defense ministry. North Korean soldiers in the JSA have been seen carrying pistols, according to local reports.

The agreement, also known as the Sept. 19 military agreement, was signed on Sept. 19, 2018, at the height of a reconciliatory mood when then South Korean President Moon Jae-in traveled to Pyongyang for summit talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Relations between the two sides have soured after South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol took office with a harder-line stance on Pyongyang, and the North undertook a series of provocations, including long-range missile launches.

The two generals, however, noted the CMA's suspension would not impact the NNSC's mission.

"Globally speaking, of course it is a pity this evolution, this development. But that has nothing to do with the NNSC, or (does) not directly impact the NNSC," Burgener said.

Herlitz also said the NNSC's task remains the same, and it will continue to observe the compliance of the armistice that halted the 1950-53 Korean War.

The NNSC has served to monitor the implementation of the armistice as an "impartial" observer, Herlitz said, as the Korean War did not end with a peace treaty, technically leaving the two Koreas still at war.

While Swedish and Swiss delegations have been stationed on the southern side, what was previously Czechoslovakia and Poland represented the NNSC on the northern front until North Korea expelled them and declared the monitoring group invalid in light of the fall of communist governments in Eastern Europe in the 1990s.

"At the NNSC, we are a third party that's to be independent and impartial and to observe all the activities that the UNCMAC is conducting when it comes to inspections," Herlitz said, using the acronym for the US-led UN Command Military Armistice Commission.

While North Korea has denounced annual military drills between South Korea and the US as a rehearsal for war, she said the NNSC observed the joint exercise as "deterrence" and "defensive in nature."

The two generals also stressed that their countries remain committed to the Armistice Agreement, which they described as still "valid."

"Neither of our countries has the intention to quit," Burgener said. "There's no discussion about leaving this commission or stopping it."

In addressing the challenge posed by the absence of representation on the northern side, Herlitz underscored the importance of communicating with North Korea to maintain stability on the peninsula.

"They are always welcome to T1 -- the NNSC headquarters in the conference room -- we are always open for dialogue." (Yonhap)