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World Association of International Studies

Post Demining Korea's DMZ
Created by John Eipper on 10/09/18 3:46 AM

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Demining Korea's DMZ (Brian Blodgett, USA, 10/09/18 3:46 am)

While eyes are focused elsewhere across the world, a small effort is occurring in the Koreas to remove mines from two areas, Panmunjom and Arrow Head Hill. The clearing of these two areas will remove perhaps 20,000 or more mines from the nearly two million mines (the slight majority by about half a million of which are US and ROK). The goal is to have the mines removed by the end of the month.  This is feasible but dangerous, as the exact locations of many of the mines are unknown and the shifting of them due to weather over the years makes the demining dangerous. The removal of the mines will allow the area around Panmunjom, where the Joint Security Area is, to be a bit more "peaceful," as one reporter stated. Removal from Arrow Head Hill, a highly contested area during the war, will allow retrieval by both sides of bodies lost there during the war.

Further actions along the border will include removing some of the guard posts and establishing buffer zones along the land, sea and aerial boundaries where live-fire drills and military flights would be banned.

The reasons for these actions are that when the nation's defense chiefs met in a September summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the demining of the Joint Security Area is part of a broader step to "disarm" the zone and turn it to a "place for peace and unity." However, the removal of a small percent of mines will have minimal impact.

As a note, both the US and the RoK are among the highest-profile countries that did not, and are unlikely to sign the Ottawa Convention banning the use of mines in war, chiefly because of mines in the DMZ, which both countries view as necessary in protecting the RoK from the DPRK. The Ottawa Convention's official name is the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction and seeks to end the use of anti-personnel landmines worldwide. It was opened for signature on December 3, 1997, and it entered into force on March 1, 1999. For a view of the countries that signed the convention, view http://www.icbl.org/en-gb/the-treaty/treaty-status.aspx

JE comments:  Twenty-thousand is but 1% of the total, but a start is a start.  And consider the gargantuan task of removing 20,000 devices, when any single one of them can kill you.   Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Brian.  Can you walk us through the demining process?  How are the personnel protected during this deadly work?  Robots?

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  • Need to Sniff Out Land Mines? Call a Rat (Tamara Zuniga-Brown, USA 10/11/18 5:30 AM)

    I'd like to add some esoteric knowledge/assistance to Brian Blodgett’s post (October 9th) about the difficulties and dangers of land mine removal in Korea's Panmunjom and Arrow Head Hill areas. 

    I had the honor of listening to and meeting Nicolas Kristoff, NYT Pulitzer Prize author on human rights, women’s rights, health, and global affairs. When asked how his family was impacted by his work and world travels, he responded by telling the audience a story about his most favorite and most thoughtful birthday gift, the adoption of a
    giant African pouch rat--the world’s best land mine sniffers.

    Giant African Rats Detect Land Mines and TB for a Living (Scientific American):


    Meet the Giant Rats that are Sniffing Out Land Mines (National Geographic):


    JE comments:  Anyone can "smell a rat," but the larger point is what the rats smell back.  Who thought that rats and land mines could lead to a feel-good story?  Well, click on the two articles above.  Besides their keen sense of smell, the Giant Pouchers have another advantage:  they're too light to set off the mines.  And they're really cute.

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  • The Logistics of Demining Korea's DMZ (Brian Blodgett, USA 10/13/18 6:00 AM)
    John E asked about how the demining of the Korean DMZ would occur. After doing some searching, I was surprised to learn that, from what I found, the Republic of Korea was not using demining machines like we saw in World War II but modern, and/or robotic machines. There is no word of what North Korea is using.

    Regarding what I found on the RoK removal, it appears that at this time it is being done manually. Which I think would surprise most of us--perhaps the two sides agreed to prohibit mechanical devices into the area? So, small teams are doing the work with each team having 12-member crews working in two-hour shifts due to the excruciating nature of the job. They work two shifts a day and there is a rotation every 10 to 15 minutes. This has to make the task very slow-moving.

    The lead members of the team have the task of finding the mines through use of metal detectors and the like. They are followed by a team that removes obstacles from the immediate area and have items like weed eaters to cut down the grass. These members are followed by the explosive ordinary disposal specialists who remove the mines from the ground and take them out of the DMZ.

    The method used surely limits the size of the search area that they can cover each daily. Because of cold weather approaching, the demining operations can only last another month and a half or so. Once snow falls and they cannot see the ground, or it is cold enough and the ground freezes, the demining will have to stop for months.

    A challenge for the demining crews is that they do not know where the mines were placed/planted, and in the case of Arrow Head Hill, since it was a combat area, the likelihood is that they were planted randomly and in the a mutual defense pattern based on where the troops were over 60 years ago. The demining experts' best guess is that the mines are along where the trenches surrounding Arrow Head Hill were, which was a major transportation route for combat forces under the hail of gunfire during the war. According to the commander of the southern demining operation, "We are going to conduct search operations along the trench. From there, we are going to expand the search area incrementally. It is like using previous pathways before venturing into a new area."

    Personnel from the United Nations Command, which controls the DMZ, watch the demining area at the entrance of the restricted zone and monitor convoys carrying mine-removal equipment. This last sentence is all I could find that indicated that perhaps some mechanical devices were being used.

    Note: This method is not much better than what I learned in the infantry back in the 1980s.

    JE comments: This, my friends, is not the job for me!  These deminers are the bravest of the brave, and unsung heroes.

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