SEOUL (Reuters) - International troops stationed on the South Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjom on the border with North Korea who had been unarmed can resume carrying guns, the United Nations Command (UNC) said on Tuesday.
The U.S.-led UNC is a multinational military force and oversees affairs in the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas, which remain technically at war.
Panmunjom, which has been a popular tourist destination, is known formally as the Joint Security Area (JSA) - a cluster of buildings that has hosted inter-Korean talks and where troops from both sides stand almost face to face.
The decision this month to allow UNC troops to carry guns came after North Korean soldiers of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) had resumed "an armed security posture" in the area, said Colonel Isaac Taylor, the spokesperson for the UNC.
Taylor said the move was aimed at protecting both civilian and military personnel in the border area.
"This action is being taken out of an abundance of caution, but UNC has also informed the ROK (South Korea) government and KPA of its position that a disarmed JSA is safer and more peaceful for the Korean Peninsula," Taylor said.
The two Koreas had agreed not to arm their troops on the JSA under a 2018 inter-Korean military pact, but North Korean troops have been reported to be carrying guns since November after a partial unravelling of the agreement.
Last month, South Korea suspended part of the pact aimed at de-escalating border tensions in a protest over Pyongyang's launch of a spy satellite.
North Korea responded by scrapping the accord and pledging to deploy stronger armed forces and new weapons on the border.
Taking a tour to the DMZ has been a popular activity for tourists looking to get a glimpse of the reclusive authoritarian state, but the trips to the JSA were suspended after a U.S. soldier dashed across the border in July.
South Korea said some JSA tours restarted last month, though media reports said they had been suspended again due to increased tensions with the North.
(Reporting by Hyunsu Yim and Josh Smith; Editing by Ed Davies and Gerry Doyle)