Korea, Democratic People's Republic of

Mine Ban Policy

Last updated: 16 November 2021


The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) has acknowledged the humanitarian rationale for the Mine Ban Treaty but has not taken any steps to accede to it and has not participated in efforts to ban antipersonnel landmines.

In October 2016, North Korea stated that it “shares the humanitarian concerns associated with the use of anti-personnel mines, but due to the unique security environment of the Korean peninsula, especially regarding the United States’ insistence on the use of landmines there, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is not in a position to give up the use of landmines.”[1]

Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials have earlier stated that North Korea supports the aims and objectives of the Mine Ban Treaty, but is not ready to accede, given its complex security situation.[2] In May 2009, a Geneva-based North Korean official stated to the ICBL that North Korea “is not interested in engaging” on the mine issue.[3]

On 7 December 2020, North Korea abstained from voting on annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 75/52, which called for universalization and full implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty. North Korea has also abstained from the vote in previous years.[4]

North Korea is not a party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) or the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

In September 2018, at the third inter-Korean summit, North and South Korea agreed to begin the removal of landmines from a jointly controlled village in the demilitarized zone (DMZ), which separates the two countries.[5] Subsequently, in November 2018, South Korea’s Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-Doo informed the South Korean National Assembly that North Korea had removed over 600 antipersonnel mines from the jointly controlled village under the Comprehensive Military Agreement signed in September 2018.[6] No announcement was made by North Korea. In January 2019, North Korea sent a delegation to Cambodia to study mine clearance techniques.[7]

Production, transfer, stockpiling, and use

On 3 November 2020, allegations of new use of antipersonnel landmines by North Korean forces surfaced. South Korean state media reported that in a closed-door session of the National Assembly which discussed North Korean measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic, intelligence officials reported that North Korea had blocked its borders and emplaced landmines along parts of its border with China.[8] Several casualties due to these mines were reported along the border, in Ryanggang province.[9]

Previously, in June 2015, South Korean authorities were quoted in the press as stating that North Korea had started laying new mines on its borders, to stop its soldiers from fleeing the country.[10] In August 2015, two South Korean soldiers on a routine patrol on the South Korean side of the DMZ at Yeonchon, in Gyeonggi province, were injured by newly emplaced antipersonnel mines. Early news reports quoting South Korean military sources stated that the mines were not of North Korean origin.[11] The type of mine was later confirmed by the South Korean military to be a North Korean wooden box mine (PMD-6 type).[12]

North Korea issued a denial of use, stating that it only used landmines in self-defense.[13] At a press conference in New York on 21 August 2015, the North Korean ambassador to the UN asserted that the South Korean military had identified the mine as an M14 on 4 August, and then changed its identification to a North Korean box mine on 10 August for political purposes.[14]

The United States (US)-led UN Command deployed a Special Investigation Team from the Military Armistice Commission to examine the area after the incident. The team included military officers of four countries and was observed by Swiss and Swedish members of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission. The investigation concluded “that the North Korean People’s Army violated paragraphs 6, 7 and 8 of the Armistice Agreement by emplacing wooden box land mines along a known Republic of Korea patrol route in the southern half of the Demilitarized Zone, injuring two Republic of Korea soldiers. Additionally, the investigation determined that the devices were recently emplaced, and ruled out the possibility that these were legacy landmines which had drifted from their original placements due to rain or shifting soil.”[15]

North Korea is believed to have used a substantial number of mines in or near the DMZ with South Korea.[16]

North Korea has produced antipersonnel landmines in the past, but no information is available on possible current production.[17] North Korea has exported mines, which have been found in Angola and Sudan, but there are no reports of recent transfers.[18] The size of North Korea’s stockpile of antipersonnel mines is not known, but it is probably substantial.

North Korean-made copies of Soviet PMD-6 mines continued to be found in 2017 on the shores of South Korean islands, and along watersheds downstream from the DMZ in South Korea. Heavy rain and landslides moved the landmines from their former locations, causing casualties among civilians in South Korea.[19]

[1] North Korea also stated: “The use of landmines by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is strictly for self-defense purposes in the grave situation on the Korean peninsula, where the United States is increasing the risk of war.” North Korea, Explanation of Vote on Resolution L.7/Rev.1, 71st Session, UN General Assembly (UNGA) First Committee, New York, 31 October 2016. UNGA, Official Records, A/C.1/71/PV.24, pp. 25/35–26/35.

[2] Email from Kerry Brinkert, Director, Implementation Support Unit, Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD), 1 February 2006. In 1998, a government representative indicated that North Korea supported the “humanitarian purposes and the nature of” the Mine Ban Treaty but could not accede to it “for security reasons” given the circumstances on the Korean peninsula. Statement by Counselor Kim Sam Jong, Permanent Mission of North Korea to the UN, 4 December 1998; and UNGA, “Official Records of the UN General Assembly, Fifty-third Session, 79th plenary meeting,” New York, 4 December 1998, A/53/pv79, pp. 8–9.

[3] Telephone interview with official at the Permanent Mission of North Korea to the UN in Geneva, 27 May 2009.

[6]Minister: N. Korea eliminated 636 mines from Panmunjom area,” Yonhap News Agency, 12 November 2018.

[7] Khuon Narim, “North Korean delegation interested in mine clearance technique,” Khmer Times, 3 January 2019. The delegation was sponsored by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

[11] Elizabeth Shim, “Two South Korean soldiers injured in DMZ land mine explosion,” United Press International, 4 August 2015.

[12] This particular type of mine has been found frequently in South Korea and on its coastal islands. In 2010, a South Korean man was killed by the same type of mine in a neighboring county, in Gyeonggi province. See, ICBL, Landmine Monitor 2011 (Ottawa: Mines Action Canada, October 2011).

[13]North Korea Rejects Landmine Blasts Blame,” Sky News, 14 August 2015.

[16] Kim Ki-ho, Director, Korean Research Institute for Mine Clearance, estimated two million mines set at two-meter intervals are on the northern side of the DMZ. “South Korea’s Uphill Battle Against Land Mines,” Voice of America, 9 March 2010.

[17] North Korea has produced Model 15 fragmentation mines and APP M-57 blast mines. See, Eddie Banks, Brassey’s Essential Guide to Anti-Personnel Landmines (London: Brassey’s, 1997), p. 164; and Colin King, ed., Jane’s Mines and Mine Clearance 2004–2005 (Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, 2005), p. 211.

[18] Colin King, ed., Jane’s Mines and Mine Clearance 2004–2005 (Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, 2005), p. 211.

[19]N. Korean wooden-box land mine found on border islet,” Yonhap News Agency, 28 July 2017.