Environmental concerns over dismantling of the DMZ amid diplomatic progress

World Today

It’s a sign of diplomatic progress on the Korean peninsula, centered on dismantling the Demilitarized Zone.

But some environmentalists are not happy.

They worry the area, home to many endangered species, could be at risk.

CGTN’s Jack Barton reports.

De-mining efforts have begun in the Demilitarized Zone — military outposts are being removed, road and rail links re-connected.

And, there are even bigger plans if sanctions are eased.

“If the two Koreas build a new industrial complex such as the Kaesong industrial complex, especially with cheap labor from the DPRK and the technical skill of the Republic of Korea, it will be near the border area,” said Kwon Dae-joong, Director of the Korea Real Estate Society.

Land prices near the DMZ have been soaring, and there is talk of one day developing the zone as real estate.

Conservationists are concerned.

“More than 100 endangered species, which is about 40 percent of Korea’s total endangered species, live in the DMZ,” said Seo Jae-chu of Green Korea United.

A DMZ museum displays just some of the endangered species currently thriving in the zone.

“Some of the most endangered species include the Asiatic Black Bear, the musk deer, the sky squirrel and the sable and wild cats. In particular, cranes and white-naped cranes form stable habitats,” said Seo.

After some initial excitement, the real estate sector now largely agrees the DMZ should become Asia’s largest nature zone.

“Even if the two Koreas manage reconciliation, the region is unlikely to be developed because it is worth preserving in its natural state,” said Kwon.  “We want it and I think North Korea wants it that way.”

And it’s no longer a distant dream.

“The total area of the DMZ will be turned into a peace zone within the next year or the next two to three years, it’s possible now,” said Cho Han-bum, senior analyst of Korea Institute for National Unification.