Troops from North and South Korea are removing landmines along their heavily fortified border in a pact to reduce tension in the divided Asian peninsula.
The 20-day exercise that began on Monday saw South Korean troops clearing landmines at the Joint Security Area (JSA).
A South Koren defence ministry spokesperson said the operation had begun on both sides, though there has been no confirmation by the North.
The agreement between the nations – which are technically still at war – to demine was reached at a meeting in Pyongyang last month between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un.
More than 800,000 mines are believed to have been planted along the entire border during and after the 1950-53 war to defend against infiltration.
The JSA, also known as the truce village of Panmunjom, is the only spot along the tense, 250km “demilitarised zone” (DMZ) border where troops from the two countries stand face to face.
It is often used as a venue for talks between the two Koreas, including the two summits between Kim and Moon this summer.
Thaw in relations
South Korean troops have gradually taken over most operations along the DMZ, but international forces under the US-led United Nations Command (UNC) retain major roles, especially at the JSA, where an American commander and a South Korean deputy lead the security battalion.
UNC spokesman Colonel Chad Carroll declined to confirm if the command would also withdraw any weapons from the JSA, but said American forces would provide support for the demining operation.
“United States Forces Korea will perform a support role – to include having air medical evacuation assets available to respond within minutes of any potential medical emergencies,” he told Reuters in a statement.
Since fighting during the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a stalemate, at least nine soldiers have been killed in incidents with North Korean troops, including the killing in 1976 of two US soldiers.
In April, the neighbours announced their intention to turn the DMZ – long a symbol of tension and division – into a “peace zone”.
They have already dismantled propaganda loudspeakers and some guard posts along the border.