North and South Korean soldiers shake hands on DMZ in signs of peace

Photo : 9 news

 

Standing holding guns, the two soldiers reach out to each other and shake hands with an invisible border and steel posts between them.

The soldiers smile and talk as they survey the work their armies and teams have been doing as their heavily armed colleagues look on.

But this is no ordinary moment between armies – this moment took place between two countries still technically at war – and on the most heavily armed border in the world known as the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

While the soldiers shaking hands is a moment of peace, the DMZ, created as a buffer at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, remains a dangerous place and the site of deadly fighting and bloodshed.

FROM WAR TO PEACE?

The peaceful moment is something just months ago the world never imagined would happen as tensions on the Korean Peninsula skyrocketed following a series of missile tests by the North and war of words with South Korean ally, the US.

The incredible handshake between soldiers comes as North Korea last week blew up some of its front-line guard posts as part of an agreement to ease tensions along its heavily fortified border with the south.

The Koreas’ militaries agreed at a leaders’ summit in Pyongyang in September to eventually dismantle all guard posts inside the 248-kilometre long, 4km wide border.

Under the September agreements, the Koreas have also taken steps to disarm the shared border village of Panmunjom, halted live-fire drills along the border and have been removing mines at a front-line area to conduct their first joint searches for Korean War dead.

The two Koreas later withdrew weapons and troops from 11 of their guard posts and decided to completely dismantle 10 of them by the end of November.

Seoul’s Defense Ministry confirmed the dismantling of 10 North Korean guard posts and said North Korean soldiers had used hammers to tear down sections ahead of last week’s near-simultaneous demolitions.

Seoul began dismantling 10 of its guard posts with dynamite and excavators earlier this month.

South Korea had about 60 posts inside the DMZ guarded by layers of barbed wire and manned by troops with machine guns.

North Korea was estimated to have 160 such front-line posts. Once the dismantling is done, the two Koreas are to jointly verify their work by the end of December.

Relations between the Koreas have improved since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reached out to South Korea and the United States earlier this year with a vague promise to achieve the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

However, US-North Korea talks on the North’s nuclear program haven’t produced much progress since Kim met with US President Donald Trump in a historic summit in Singapore in June.

Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst in defence strategy and capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, called the handshake moment “pretty extraordinary” however said caution had to be taken.

“I think that there is clearly some sort of a rapprochement between the two Koreas, which is good – if its genuine,” he told nine.com.au.

“I think that this process needs to occur at a cautious pace though, and there is a risk of it gathering speed and opening up a gap between policy being set in Seoul, and policy being set in DC.”

Dr Davis said the challenge now is what happens if the two Koreas race forward to sign some sort of peace document but the North continues to expand its nuclear and missile capabilities and there is no progress between Pyongyang and the US on denuclearisation.

“I think with a ‘peace deal’ signed, North Korea would then put pressure on the US to end all sanctions and withdraw US forces from the RoK (Republic of Korea),” he said.

“The South Koreans could very well support such an outcome, particularly if they are caught up with a rush to peace. But the DPRK (North Korea) still has all its nukes, all its missiles and all its military forces intact.

“The danger is then that if the US gives North Korea what it wants, absent Pyongyang getting rid of its nukes, South Korea becomes vulnerable to coercion in the future.”

Dr Davis said South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has made inroads with his northern neighbour, wasn’t going to be in his role forever and warned a different South Korean government may not be so willing to rush to peace if there’s been no disarmament on the North Korean side.

“It’s important not to get caught up in emotive moments – keep an eye on the bigger strategic picture,” he said.

“That is not to say that I think peace on the Korean peninsula is impossible – it could be that Kim is genuine. But I’m sceptical – why is he building up his nuclear and missile capabilities if he really wanted peace?”

New York-based Park Strategies senior vice president Sean King and Asian affairs expert Sean King told nine.com.au the pictures of the smiling soldiers on the DMZ looked “almost real”.

Mr King said while the images were certainly striking he felt it was just “more South Korean nationalist Left self-delusion”.

However nuclear disarmament campaigner John Hallam said it was a real moment and he hoped this gesture between the two countries would continue.

“I guess this is all part of the process of demolition of the fortifications that has now been going on for some time, and its so much ‘in the background’ that we forget that it is this process which is in fact the most important of all – a process that can transform the relationship between the RoK (Republic of Korea) and the DPRK (Democratic Republic of Korea).

“It is the single most important process, the single most critical dynamic, in this whole thing.

“It strikes me this is probably not the only handshake that has ever taken place in the last weeks, but one of many. I hope so.”

Source :

9 news

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