SEOUL, Nov. 5 (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap) -- The Koreas began a joint survey of a waterway along their western border Monday to jointly use the estuaries of the Han and Imjin rivers, where civilian access has been restricted due to military tensions, Seoul's defense ministry said.
Under the September inter-Korean military accord, they will conduct it until the end of the year to militarily guarantee the safety of the estuaries so that they can be used for tourism, ecological protection and the collection of construction aggregate.
"We hope that we can get good results, as this survey is aimed at paving the way for the peaceful use of the waterway that has been blocked for 65 years since the armistice agreement was signed in 1953," Col. Yoon Chang-hwi told reporters.
The 20-member survey team consists of 10 people from each side, including military and maritime government officials and waterway experts. The team members carry no weapons and are banned from doing any provocative acts during the joint survey.
The South deployed six ships for the joint survey that uses an acoustic program to measure the depth of water for information on the safe navigation through the waterway. After the survey is complete, the team will provide the defense ministry with a navigation map by January next year.
The 70-kilometer-long waterway that the Koreas agreed to jointly use spans around 280 square kilometers.
"After we draw up the map based on the survey, we can determine which size of ship can use which navigation route in the waterway," Lee Dong-jae, the director general of the Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Administration, told reporters.
"This is a basic survey for safe navigation conducted in consultation with the U.N. Command ... Thus, it has nothing to do with U.N. sanctions," he added.
Fishermen expressed high expectations for the survey.
"Our fishermen feel that we will be able to freely carry out all of our fishing activities without restrictions if the South and North get along well," Lee Sang-il, a local fisherman, said.
Under the inter-Korean accord, people and ships that want to use the areas must notify the military authorities a day before their entry. Between April and September, people will be allowed to use the estuaries from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., while they will remain open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. between October and March.
During the 2007 inter-Korean summit, Seoul and Pyongyang agreed on a set of projects through the joint use of the river estuaries. But they did not materialize due to strains in cross-border relations.
The joint survey is another step by the Koreas to enforce their military agreement signed by their defense ministers after the third inter-Korean summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang in September.
Aimed at reducing tensions and preventing accidental clashes, the agreement includes various trust-building measures and conventional arms control plans, such as disarming the Joint Security Area in the Demilitarized Zone and removing some border guard posts on a trial basis.
This map, provided by South Korea's defense ministry, shows the Han River estuary that the Koreas have agreed to use together. (Yonhap) This map, provided by South Korea's defense ministry, shows the Han River estuary that the Koreas have agreed to use together. (Yonhap)