SEOUL — South Korea spent more than $1 million this year to remove land mines that are believed to be from the Korean War, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The military removed 168 land mines between April and November across the country as part of an effort to demine rural areas.
This year, approximately 53,000 South Korean troops cleared 63,500 square meters of land in seven locations, including near the Demilitarized Zone and a mountain in southern Seoul.
The military program has removed 68,000 mines since it began in 1998. Estimates vary widely on how many more remain buried nearly six decades after active combat ended in 1953, but officials have previously estimated more than a million mines are in South Korea’s side of the DMZ.
However, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense said Monday that about 10,000 mines remain buried.
A JCS spokesman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said land mines remain a problem particularly in rural areas and in cities along the DMZ such as Paju and Yeoncheon.
“Land mines might still hurt people, and there are still so many,” he said.
No figures were immediately available for the number of injuries and accidents caused by mines. Officials said citizens occasionally find them while foraging for herbs and wild greens on mountainsides or while farming. Heavy rain can unearth mines and wash them far from their original burial sites, and people also ignore warning signs that ban entry into mine-ridden areas.
Troops will search next year in eight locations, including two villages along the DMZ.
Lt. Col. Kook Changho of the JCS’ Engineering Operation Department said the military usually spends about 1.1 billion won annually on mine removal, as it did this year.