The DMZ viewed from a South Korean observation post.
South Korea acting unilaterally due to cold inter-Korean relations; North likely to object
By Kim Jeong-su, staff reporter
The government is expecting a decision next week on its unilateral push to have the southern part of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The DMZ is a 4km no-go zone that runs across the Korean peninsula, separating the two Koreas. It was created through a 1953 Armistice Agreement where both sides agreed to move back 2km from the frontline.
Many voiced concern that the decision could end up stirring up conflict with North Korea over a designation that should be serving as an opportunity and symbol for reconciliation.
The Ministry of Environment submitted an application to UNESCO in Sept. 2011 for designation of 435 ㎢ in the southern part of the DMZ below the Military Demarcation Line, as well as 2,979 ㎢ in privately controlled areas, as a Biosphere Reserve according to the Statutory Framework of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. The final decision from UNECSO is expected next week.
The ministry had initially planned to push jointly with North Korea for designation of the entire DMZ, but decided to apply for only the southern portion after receiving no response from Pyongyang.
The application was submitted without the official consent of either party to the armistice agreement after the UN Command, which oversees the southern part of the DMZ, declined to sign.
Inje University professor Kim Yeon-chul, an expert on inter-Korean issues, said on July 3 that North Korea could take issue with South Korea’s unilateral application as a violation of the armistice agreement, since the DMZ is overseen by the Military Armistice Commission, which includes officers from North Korea, China, and the UN.
“Since the Military Armistice Commission isn’t really functioning at the moment, they should at least try to get the UN Command to agree to discussions with North Korea,” Kim said.
North Korea is a member nation of the international coordinating council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme, which designates Biosphere Reserves. The country is known to be gearing up to attack the application as a violation of the armistice agreement during the council’s meeting in Paris on July 9 to 13.
The Ministry of Environment is working to receive the UN Command’s written consent to present at the meeting, but has not succeeded so far.
A ministry official acknowledged that Pyongyang was preparing to attack the application as a violation and said, “It would be fine if the UN Command gave their formal signature, but they are maintaining that it’s not their jurisdiction.”
Seo Jae-chul, who heads Green Korea United’s ecosystem division, said it was important for the DMZ Biosphere Reserve to serve as an opportunity and symbol for reconciliation through a process of North and South jointly discussing, researching, and requesting its designation.
“Not only is there no hurry, since the area is under complete control, but the government is running the risk of worsening inter-Korean relations by rushing to claim another public relations coup for the administration even when it knows Pyongyang will object,” Seo said.
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