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UN Command to resume tours to inter-Korean border village

Seoul, Nov 18 (IANS) The US-led UN Command (UNC) plans to resume a tour program to the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom later this month after a Covid-19 pandemic-driven hiatus, its officials said on Thursday.

The UNC will restart the program to the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas on November 30 in line with South Korea's "living with Covid-19" scheme for a gradual return to normal life, Yonhap News Agency quoted the officials as saying.

The UNC coordinated the date for the tour resumption with Seoul's Unification Ministry.

"The purpose of the UNC commander's DMZ Education and Orientation Program is to increase public awareness of the security conditions on the Korean Peninsula and educate visitors on the terms of Armistice that underpin peace and stability," the Command said in a statement.

Non-essential visits to the area have been mostly limited since December 18, 2022.

Tours temporarily resumed in April, but they were suspended again in July when South Korea applied the highest level of social distancing rules in the greater Seoul area.

Since this month, South Korea has implemented the "living with Covid-19 scheme", which entails eased distancing rules.

The scheme came as the country's vaccination program accelerated. More than 78 per cent of South Koreans had been fully vaccinated as of Wednesday.

"The UNC will continue to monitor Covid-19 conditions within South Korea to ensure all necessary mitigation measures are in place to preserve the health and safety of all visitors to Panmunjom," the Command said.

The UNC oversees activities in the DMZ.

It is an enforcer of the armistice agreement that halted the 1950-53 Korean War.