Neutral observer urges Koreas to tone down threats
As a North Korean soldier looks on in the distance, Swedish Rear Adm. Anders Grenstad speaks to reporters at the Joint Security Area of Korea's Demilitarized Zone on March 13, 2013. Grenstad, a member of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, called for an end to the war of words being waged on the Korean peninsula and for both sides to find their way back to the negotiating table.
DEMILITARIZED ZONE, Korea — A member of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission has urged the two Koreas to “bring the rhetoric down” and start talking about a return to the negotiating table.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday in the Joint Security Area of the DMZ — within view of North Korean soldiers on the other side of the Military Demarcation Line — Swedish Rear Adm. Anders Grenstad also urged Pyongyang not to abandon the armistice agreement that “has kept war away for almost 60 years now.”
Grenstad said things have been tense of late in and around the DMZ, but tour groups continue to visit the JSA from both the north and south and no noticeable changes in procedures have been put in place in connection with North Korea’s decision Monday to no longer recognize the armistice as valid, other than the North’s decision to not answer the Red Cross hotline there since Monday.
“I’ve been here now for two years … (and) I can’t say with my own observation that it is more tense now than it has been since I arrived here,” he said. “Everything is as normal as it gets up here.”
On Wednesday, North Korea unleashed yet another round of threats against the U.S. and South Korea in retaliation for joint military exercises now under way and recently announced United Nations sanctions leveled against the rogue nation in connection with its recent nuclear test, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
“Warmongers would be well advised to keep in mind that (North Korea) is no longer restrained,” it quoted a statement from the North’s Korean Central News Agency as saying. “What is left to be done is (to push forth) an action of justice and merciless retaliation of the army and people of (North Korea).”
In recent days, the North has threated to turn Seoul and Washington, D.C., into a “sea of fire” and has declared invalid the armistice that effectively ended the Korean War in 1953 and has since been used to manage the uneasy peace on the peninsula.
South Korea’s military has publicly vowed to “strongly and sternly” punish the North for any provocation.
The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission was created by the 1953 armistice to more or less act as a referee, monitoring to make sure both sides lived up to the terms of the pact, and to investigate possible violations related to things like troop buildups.
However, North Korea has refused to recognize the existence of the commission since 1995, at about the same time it forced the Czech and Polish delegations — which were charged with monitoring adherence to the armistice north of the DMZ — out of the country.
On the south side of the DMZ, small delegations from Sweden and Switzerland continue their responsibilities as laid out in the armistice, monitoring troop levels in South Korea, as well as observing large U.S.-South Korean military exercises to make sure they do not violate the spirit of the pact.
Grenstad said North Korea bluster aside, the armistice remains valid and can only be voided by agreement of all parties involved.
“I just hope the rhetoric goes down and there will be communication that starts up that will lead to six-party talks,” he said.
The U.S., China, Russia, Japan, North and South Korea were involved in what became known as the Six-Party Talks, aimed at getting the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program in exchange for more normalized relations with other countries. North Korea withdrew from those talks in 2009.
“I hope the armistice agreement will go on being valid,” Grenstad said. “I hope both sides will actually stick to what they have signed up to (do). Both sides will benefit from that.”