Two Koreas begin DMZ landmine removal work

South Korean soldiers standing guard at Panmunjom. North and South Korea agreed to remove all landmines in the so-called Joint Security Area within the next 20 days

South Korean soldiers standing guard at Panmunjom. North and South Korea agreed to remove all landmines in the so-called Joint Security Area within the next 20 days

When the work is completed, guard posts and weapons will also be removed, leaving unarmed troops stationed in the area as part of measures to manage tensions along the border, the statement added.

A top South Korean official told lawmakers that North Korea is estimated to have up to 60 nuclear weapons, in Seoul's first public comment about the size of the North's secrecy-clouded weapons arsenal.

The mine removal starting Monday took place at the Koreas' Joint Security Area in their shared border village of Panmunjom and another front-line area where the two countries plan their first joint searches for the remains of soldiers killed during the 1950-53 Korean War.

"Now that the DPRK and the US are aspiring after the establishment of new relations true to the spirit of the June 12 DPRK-US joint statement, it is quite right to put an end to the belligerent relations between them", the Korean Central News Agency said in an English commentary. The Koreas remain split along the 248-kilometer (155-mile)-long Demilitarized Zone that was originally created as a buffer zone at the end of the Korean War. North Korea is thought to have placed 800,000 to one million landmines on the north side.

Military engineers are performing the hazardous task on the South Korean side.

They have already dismantled propaganda loudspeakers and some guard posts along the border.

There was no immediate confirmation from North Korea that its troops had begun the process.

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"Even if we deployed 11 front-line engineering units to the DMZ and nearby area, it would take about 200 years to completely remove land mines scattered in the two Koreas", an Army official said during a meeting with reporters last month.

In this October 1, 2018 photo, South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon speaks at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea.

Moon has advocated dialogue with the isolated North to nudge it toward denuclearisation. In a speech marking South Korea's 70th Armed Forces Day, Moon also called for a stronger national defense, saying "peace can continue only when we have power and are confidant of protecting ourselves".

"I think it's the worst-ever South-North Korean agreement that made a concession in our defense posture before (North Korean) denuclearization is achieved", Shin Wonsik, a former vice chairman of the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week.

The North entered talks with the United States and South Korea earlier this year, saying it is willing to negotiate away its advancing nuclear arsenal.

The KCNA said North Korea has taken "substantial and crucial steps" to implement the summit agreement with the U.S. but that Washington is still talking about intensifying sanctions, rather than trying to resolve the end-of-war declaration issue that should have been resolved decades ago. But it said the U.S.is "trying to subdue" it through sanctions - a clear call for Washington to lift sanctions if it wants further progress in their stalled nuclear negotiations. They expressed support for the project during talks last month in Pyongyang, the North's capital.

Meanwhile, on Monday, South Korea held a ceremony marking the recent return of the remains of 64 South Korean soldiers missing from the Korean War.

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