The U.S.-led United Nations Command gave the green light on Tuesday for South Korea to start developing hiking trails in the heavily fortified border that divides the peninsula.
Seoul announced earlier this month that it planned to allow the public to hike on so-called “DMZ peace trails” in three areas near the border with North Korea.
But the UNC, which is led by Army Gen. Robert Abrams, must approve plans for the Demilitarized Zone, according to the armistice agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War in lieu of a peace treaty.
Abrams, who also is the commander of U.S. Forces Korea and the Combined Forces Command, approved the first phase of the project in the Goseong area of Gangwon province, northeast of Seoul, according to a press release.
He said the UNC and the South Korean government “have demonstrated superb teamwork, collaboration, and coordination throughout the entire ‘peace trail’ process and will continue to do so.”
“The (South Korean) military has worked extremely long hours to ensure the success of this very important initiative, while assuring visitors their safety remains paramount,” he added.
The Goseong-area trail, which is in the South Korean Army’s 22nd Infantry Division’s area, will join 13 other existing UNC-approved DMZ educational sites aimed at facilitating inter-Korean exchanges and learning opportunities, the press release said.
The initiative is part of the South Korean government’s efforts to turn the DMZ, which has been known for being lined with barbed wire and dotted with land mines, into a peace zone.
North Korea agreed to that principle in inter-Korean summits held last year, but it has slowed down its participation in engagement with the South as parallel nuclear talks with the United States have stalled.
The other proposed peace trails would be in Gangwon’s Cheorwan county and the city of Paju, northwest of Seoul.
President Moon Jae-in’s administration also plans to hold a celebration to mark the anniversary of the first inter-Korean summit on Saturday in the truce village of Panmunjom, which straddles the border.
U.N. officials have said their primary concern in allowing free movement for the public in the DMZ is the security of all involved.
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