North and South Korean border may soon open to tourists

Nicola Smith
The military demarcation line on the North and South Korean border may soon be accessible to tourists - REUTERS

Tourists may soon get the chance to take the perfect selfie in the highly fortified border zone between North and South Korea, where the countries two leaders had a first historic handshake in April. 

Discussions are under way to allow public access to the border demarcation line in the Joint Security Area, where Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in, the South Korean President, greeted each other with smiles and a hug at their first summit earlier this year. 

The move was revealed by the South’s defence ministry on Wednesday as one of several measures to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula during something of a diplomatic détente. 

If agreement can be reached it would be another sign of the rapid turnaround in relations between North and South who only last year faced a stand-off that many feared could lead to military confrontation. 

The Joint Security Area last November was the scene of the dramatic defection of Oh Chong-song, who was shot multiple times as he dashed across the border to the South. The young soldier later recovered from his injuries. 

The proposed plan to open up the border would also apply to South Korean nationals who have been barred from taking part in such trips, apart from exceptional circumstances, since the Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953.

The demilitarised zone in the border village of Panmunjom Credit: Lee Jin-man/AP

"As early as this year, the JSA will be transformed into a place North and South Korean civilians and tourists can freely enter and leave and contact each other,” a government official told the Chosun Ilbo. 

It is believed that visits would only be allowed between 9am and 5.30pm and that both sides will set up guard posts at the entry points to prevent defections. 

The proposal forms part of discussions between the two Koreas and the US-led United Nations Command to disarm the military zone of the border area. 

Currently the Joint Security Area is overseen by the UN Command and by North Korea, with South and North Korean soldiers facing each other just metres apart. It is located inside a 2.5 mile-wide demilitarised zone between the two countries. 

Unprecedented talks between all parties were held on Tuesday. Earlier this month, the Korean militaries also began clearing mines from the border area.