By Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee
North Korea, South Korea and the United Nations Command (UNC) held their first three-way talks on Tuesday to discuss demilitarizing the border as the two Koreas push for peace, Seoul's defense ministry said.
The two Koreas agreed during last month's summit in Pyongyang to form a tripartite consultation with the UNC, which overlaps with U.S. forces in the South and oversees affairs in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), to facilitate their plan to disarm one of the world's most heavily fortified frontiers.
The accord includes halting military exercises, a no-fly zone near their border and the gradual removal of landmines and guard posts within the DMZ.
The closed-door meeting took place at the border village of Panmunjom and was led by colonel-level military officials from each side, the ministry said in a statement.
As an initial step, the two Koreas are seeking to pull out 11 guard posts within a 1 km radius of the Military Demarcation Line by the end of this year.
They began demining in several small areas this month and will build roads to facilitate a pilot project slated for April to excavate remains of soldiers missing from the 1950-53 Korean War.
Both sides will also withdraw all firearms from the Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom, scale down personnel stationed there to 35 on each side in line with the armistice agreement, and share information of their surveillance equipment.
Tourists from both sides and overseas will be allowed to freely come and go within the JSA.
The measures, designed to come about over the period of one month, would transform the border into a "place of peace and reconciliation," the ministry has said.
"Most of the operations will actually be executed by the two Koreas but ensuring UNC support matters, as it has U.S. elements and also manages the Military Armistice Commission," a South Korean military source said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The two Koreas agreed on Monday to begin reconnecting rail and road links in spite of U.S. concerns that the rapid North-South thaw could undermine efforts to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because the Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee; editing by Stephen Coates)