Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Korean DMZ

The Freedom Bridge.  POWs and South Korean prisoners would walk across this bridge to South Korea once realeased by North Korean authorities. 
Observation Point is where you can see Propoganda Village, Kaesong (a North-South industrial complex agreement), the tallest flag pole in the world (North Korean), and a long section of the DMZ. 
The Dorasan train station was the last stop in South Korea on the formerly used North-South railroad line.  Since North Korea has terminated trains from entering, this station is now just a glorified bathroom.  I'm standing next to a South Korean DMZ soldier.
A soldier stands guard inside the meeting room in Panmunjeom.  The North/South border goes directly through the middle of this building and has been the center for many North/South talks in the past.  Photo courtesy of theworld.org.
An excellent map of the current North/South border and DMZ.  Photo courtesy of jcs-group.com.
A diagram of the Joint Security Area in the DMZ.  The area below the blue buildings is the South Korean side, and buildings above are part of the North Korean side of the JSA.  The blue buildings in the middle are the meeting rooms (see the photo above).  This is the only section of the DMZ where firearms are not allowed and where the famous tree cutting incident of 1976 that resulted in the death of two American officers.  Photo courtesy of johngonglewski.com.

The Korean War had come to a general standstill when an armistice agreement signed on July 27, 1953 created a 240 kilometer long military buffer to be known as the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).  The agreement required both countries to move their infrastructure and weaponry two kilometers from the border, thereby creating a four kilometer swath of untouched land.  Only a couple notable exceptions to this rule are in effect: a tightly controlled farming village and the peace village famously known as Panmunjom. 
The village of Panmunjom sits inside the DMZ and is split between both countries.  This area is commonly referred to as the Joint Security Area, a special area where North and South Korean troops patrol without any firearms.  Important North/South talks and diplomatic developments have occurred in the famous meeting room that literally sits in the middle of both countries.  Famous incidents have taken place inside the JSA, most notably the August 18, 1976 Axe Murder incident in which two American officers were axed to death while trying to remove a tree inside the JSA. 
The DMZ is still subject to high tension with skirmishes taking place along the border in addition to areas being heavily mined.  During our tour we were not allowed to walk around in many areas that were cordoned off with the explicit message that mines were still present.  Furthermore, South Korea has discovered four major tunnels the North Koreans have dug in the past sixty years.  While small, these tunnels were designed to make a surprise attack on Seoul.  There are rumors of possibly twenty tunnels in total in the DMZ (all by North Korea), and the South Korean government has placed several different types of technology in the area in hopes of finding all possible security leaks. 
Due to the lack of development in this swath of tension, an unlikely benefit has arisen from what Bill Clinton called, “The scariest place on earth.”  No human encroachment has resulted in a nature haven from birds to leopards.  One desire for environmentalists is to someday establish the DMZ as an environmental sanctuary. 
DMZ tours are in high demand and can be easily accessed via Seoul.  Visitors get to see the Freedom Bridge, Panmunjom, an observation post, and a walk through the one of the tunnels discovered by the South Koreans (Tunnel No. 3). 

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