|President Moon Jae-in, right, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un take a stroll at the Foot Bridge on the South Korean side of the truce village at Panmunjeom in the border area, during their first summit on April 27, 2018. Korea Times file|
Civilian tours to the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom were set to resume Wednesday, with access expanded to previously off-limit points, including a bridge that President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un strolled along during their first summit last year.
The resumption came six months after the popular tours to the Joint Security Area (JSA) were suspended in October to facilitate joint efforts by South and North Korea to demilitarize the area. The joints efforts included the removal of mines, and went ahead under an agreement to reduce military tensions signed a month earlier.
"We expect the field trips to offer visitors a chance to feel the peace mood and the reduction in military tensions on the Korean Peninsula," defense ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo said.
The resumption of the tours is timed to mark the first anniversary of the Panmunjom Declaration adopted after the first summit between Moon and Kim at the truce village.
|President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un exchange greetings over the Military Demarcation Line at Panmunjeom where they met for their first summit, April 27, 2018. Korea Times file|
The tightly-controlled group tours to the truce village had long allowed visitors into certain parts of the zone, such as the iconic blue conference buildings where the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War was signed.
Now, the visitors can explore more areas, including the blue-painted Foot Bridge where Moon and Kim strolled along and had a private conversation during the first meeting, an iconic scene that symbolized inter-Korean rapprochement.
The pine tree the two leaders planted to commemorate the historic summit is also accessible for visitors.
The two Koreas had originally agreed to restart the tour program after the area's demilitarization to allow visitors to freely move around both sides of the JSA from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. across the demarcation line running through the zone.
|A tour guide talks to a North Korean security guard as they guide tourists to inside the Panmungak building on the North side of the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, Oct. 12, 2017. Yonhap|
But the plan has been delayed as the two Koreas and the United Nations Command (UNC), which oversees activities inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, have not reached an agreement on a joint code of conduct for such free movement, and the South has decided to resume tours to only the southern side of the area.
North Korea has reportedly demanded that the UNC be excluded from the management of the JSA.
"Our decision on the partial opening aims to expedite the delayed trilateral talks on the matter and to better prepare for the planned free movement," Choi added.
South Korean citizens can apply to take the tour via the website of the National Intelligence Service, and foreign nationals can join the program through designated tour agencies. (Yonhap)