Landmines planted by North Korea on inter-Korean road within demilitarized zone

North Korea allegedly planted mines on all three inter-Korean roads since December last year, signalling heightened tensions.

North Korea has reportedly planted mines on all three roads connecting the two Koreas since approximately December last year.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, having declared a severance of ties with South Korea, is suspected of aiming to escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula with this recent action.

These three roads hold symbolic significance for dialogue and cooperation between the two Koreas. The westernmost road leads to the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, situated near the demilitarized zone that divides the two countries, where South Korean companies operated until 2016.
The easternmost road provided a pathway for tourists journeying to the picturesque Mt. Kumgang in North Korea via buses and other transportation methods.

The military initially detected North Korea’s laying of mines on a dirt road within the demilitarized zone towards the end of 2023. These mines were reportedly placed near Arrowhead Hill in Chorwon County, situated 85 km northeast of Seoul. In January, North Korean troops were observed laying mines on two additional roads, and by March, the military uncovered that North Korea had removed numerous streetlights along these roads.
North Korean soldiers and others reportedly installed mines on the roads located on the North Korean side of the demilitarized zone. South Korean military troops stationed near the zone also confirmed the removal of roadside lights in the area.

Among the three roads affected, the central one is a short-distance, unpaved road passing through a plateau, linking North Korea with Cheolwon, Gangwon Province, in northern South Korea. This road was constructed under a 2018 North-South military agreement aimed at jointly recovering the remains of soldiers and others who perished during the Korean War (1950-1953).

Signed during the tenure of former South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who pursued a more conciliatory approach toward Pyongyang, the agreement facilitated a cessation of hostilities between the two Koreas. However, North Korea effectively revoked its adherence to the agreement in November last year.

Kim Jong Un, also serving as the general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, declared South Korea as the “primary foe,” renouncing peaceful unification with the South towards the end of last year.

The exact number and location of the buried mines remain unclear, but it is anticipated to require a significant amount of time to clear the mines and restore the affected roads, even if dialogue and exchanges resume between the two countries.

Prior to burying the mines, North Korea reinstated a monitoring station, previously removed from the demilitarized zone, in November last year. South Korea remains on high alert, interpreting this move as part of North Korea’s gradual escalation of pressure on the South.