November 09, 2018 13:16
The Defense Ministry belatedly asked lawmakers to approve another W10.1 billion in next year's budget to finance spending on a cross-border military agreement.
According to Liberty Korea Party lawmaker Baek Seung-joo on Thursday, the Defense Ministry had allocated W15 billion in the 2018-2019 budget on inter-Korean military projects, or W4 billion this year and W11 billion next year (US$1=W1,117).
But the other W10.1 billion is new. It breaks down into W8.18 billion to tear down guard posts in the demilitarized zone and W1.96 billion to move artillery training exercises from western islands near North Korea.
When Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo was asked by lawmakers last month whether the existing defense budget was enough to cover inter-Korean military projects, he replied, "I believe so." On Thursday Jeong apologized to lawmakers and said some areas of the budget "had not been calculated."
The latest budget request still does not include the estimated cost of establishing a military direct line with the North and the operation of a joint military committee.
Opposition party lawmakers fear snowballing costs for other inter-Korean projects. The general consensus is that South Korea's bill for upgrading North Korea's ailing railway system could rise from the government estimate of W40 trillion to W100 trillion, but the government only requested W295.1 billion.
For the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong, which opened last month, the Unification Ministry initially requested W860 billion but ended up spending more than W10 billion.
The government here also foots the entire bill for reunions of families separated by the Korean War. And W4 billion out of W8.5 billion the Unification Ministry requested to set up video reunion sites will be used to refurbish North Korean facilities for the project.
Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry said both South and North Korea will retain one out of the 11 guard posts they agreed to dismantle along the heavily-armed border. Although arms and troops will be taken out, the structures will stay.
The South will retain the guard post closest to the East Sea, which was the first one built after the armistice.
"We considered the historical value and peaceful use of the guard post," a ministry spokesman said. North Korea decided to keep a guard post in the central part of the demilitarized zone. A government official said, "Both guard posts are in key military areas and both sides considered those factors."
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