A Visit to the Korean DMZ

Yesterday, November 9, 2006, I took the USO tour of the Korean DMZ, Panmunjeom, and Tunnel #3.  For those that do not know the "DMZ" is the Demilitarized Zone that is between North and South Korea.  While the actual village of Panmunjeom is in North Korea, the Joint Security Area (JSA) is sometimes refered to as Panmunjeom.  Panmunjeom is the village where the armistice ending the fighting of the Korean War was signed, but South Korea never signed the armistice and thus the two countries are still technically at war.  The DMZ extends from the west coast of Korea to the East Coast, and runs roughly along the 38th Parallel.  The actual border between the two countries is marked by basically white stakes that are spaced 10m apart, and runs from coast to coast.  The white stakes indicated the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), the only place there aren’t white stakes is in the JSA between the buildings where the MDL is indicated by 17" x 5" slabs of concrete.  The MDL is where the "front line" was at the signing of the armistice, and the DMZ is defined as the area 2km on each side of the MDL.  The DMZ is void of man and machinery, with the exception of the JSA, which is where North and South Korea actually connect and negotiations are still occaisonally held to try and end the conflict between the two countries, as the area is heavily mined.  There are some farmers that live in the area and they are subsidised by the South Korean Government, and they live under some strict regulations, and the only way you can live there is if you are descended from people of the area.  ROK (Republic of Korea) soldiers guard the south side, and KPA (Korean Peoples’ Army) guard the north.  Hyundai corporation built a building on the south side in the JSA for when families would reunite from North to South, but that building has pretty much gone unused, as the North will not allow people into South Korea for fear of defection.  The JSA is also run the the United Nations Command on the South side, but it is primarily ROK soldiers there with some U.S. Soldiers.  There is a Neutral Nations Commision that also oversees the JSA, and the nations involved in the Neutral Nations Commision are Sweeden, Switzerland, and Poland.
 
Among sites to see at the JSA are "The Bridge of No Return", which is the bridge that was used in the Prisoner of War exchange.  The bridge is no longer used and was last used in 1963 when the crew of the USS Pueblo.  Reason it is called the Bridge of No Return is that prisoners held by the north were told that once they cross the bridge they would not be allowed to return to North Korea.  Another site is the U.N. building in which the negotiations take place.  Half of the building is in North Korea and half is in South Korea, and the main table in the building is the same, half in North Korea and Half in South Korea.  This is the only part of the tour where you can technically cross into North Korea, so yes, although my passport doesn’t show it, I did visit North Korea.  🙂 
 
From where you can see The Bridge of No Return, you can also see "Propaganda Village", which is a village that the north built that contains the largest flag pole in the world and the largest flag (160m pole and 30m flag).  The village is pretty much empty, and they would play audio over loud speakers spreading proganda of the North and telling the Americans to go home and the South and America are evil.
 
Our second stop was the Dora Observatory which is place where the South Koreans can see about 17km into North Korea and keep a constant eye on what the North is doing.
 
Our third and final stop was Tunnel #3.  This is where South Koreans discovered an infiltration tunnel that was being dug by the North.  We did get to go down in the tunnel.  It is about 70m underground, and the actual tunnel is small and narrow.  They give you hard hats before you go down, and for good reason, as I hit my head on the rock above about 6 times, the last resultin in a "That sounded like it hurt…" behind me.  Being 6’2", it had to walk the length of the tunnel pretty much bent over to one side, as the infiltration tunnel isn’t more than like 5’6" tall.
 
This is a very sort of erie place and you can tell people there are not "happy" and serious about where they are there.  We had to pass through two checkpoints where they checked IDs (Passports or Military ID) to get the the JSA.  South Korean citizens are not allowed in certain parts of the tour.  Also we were not allowed to take pictures at several places, but were allowed in some.  Also in the JSA we were only allowed to bring our cameras, and had to leave all bags (camera bags and purses) on the bus, as we were told "They get anxious when they see bags."  So here are some of the pictures I took on the tour.  I did take some panoramic pictures, but won’t be able to stitch them together until I get home.
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