A Quick Look: The DMZ

epaselect epa07642740 A South Korean soldier stands guard at the Joint Security Area (JSA) on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, 12 June 2019. According to media reports, US President Donald J. Trump said on 12 June that he received a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. EPA-EFE/JEON HEON-KYUN

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  • The Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), where US President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday is considered the most heavily fortified strip of land in the world.
  • The DMZ acts as the border between North and South Korea.
  • The DMZ, which runs across the Korean Peninsula, is 248km long and 4km wide.
  • The history of the DMZ goes back to the end of World War II, when the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. Japan had been the longtime holder of the Korean Peninsula, but gave it up when the Soviet Union declared war. Once the land was given up, the Soviets moved into what is now North Korea and the United States moved into what is now South Korea. The ‘border’ is know as the 38th parallel.
US leaders visit observation post in DMZ
 A combo image shows the previous and incumbent US presidents (from L to R) — Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald J. Trump — looking at North Korea from an observation post in the Demilitarized Zone, which separates the two Koreas, in the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom on Nov. 14, 1983, July 11, 1993, Feb. 20, 2002, March 25, 2012 and June 30, 2019, respectively . EPA-EFE/YONHAP 
  • When the armistice agreement was signed putting the two countries at peace, the DMZ was created.
  • In spite of the term “demilitarised” it includes a vast minefield, barbed wire, combat-ready troops on both sides and has been the site of numerous, sometimes deadly gun battles and skirmishes.
  • US presidents and other top officials have often travelled to the DMZ to reaffirm their commitment to the defence of ally South Korea.
Two Koreas connect road inside heavily fortified DMZ
 A South Korean soldier stands in front of the gate of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). EPA-EFE/JEON HEON-KYUN
  • It is extremely rare for anyone to cross the DMZ in unauthorised areas.
  • More than 30,000 North Koreans have escaped to South Korea for political and economic reasons since the war’s end, but mostly via the North’s long, porous border with China.
  • As relations improved last year, the two Koreas agreed on several deals aimed at reducing animosity at the border and removed mines from certain areas, dismantled some of their guard posts and halted frontline live-fire exercises.
  • North and South Korean troops stand just meters away from each other there. They once carried pistols, but since last year’s deals they are not armed.
  • Panmunjom is also where an armistice was signed to stop the Korean War. That armistice has yet to be replaced with a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula in a technical state of war.
DMZ Peace Trails in Goseong
A South Korean soldier shows a map of the ‘DMZ Peace Trail’ near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in the northeastern border town of Goseong, Gangwon province, South Korea. The path is one of the three routes near the border with North Korea proposed by the South Korean government in its plan to build ‘DMZ Peace Trails’ along the DMZ, with the other two being located in Paju and Cheorwon. The trails were built to commemorate the first anniversary of the signing of the Panmunjom declaration, the first summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. EPA-EFE/JEON HEON-KYUN
  • Since the armistice, more than 830 rounds of talks have been held in various Panmunjom conference rooms.
  • Panmunjom is 52km north of Seoul and 147km south of Pyongyang.
  • In 1976, when axe-wielding North Korean soldiers killed two US officers sent out to trim a tree in Panmunjom that was obstructing the view from a checkpoint. Washington then sent nuclear-capable bombers toward the DMZ in response.
DMZ Peace Trails in Goseong
 South Korean people visit the ‘DMZ Peace Trail’ near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in the northeastern border town of Goseong, Gangwon province, South Korea. EPA-EFE/JEON HEON-KYUN
  • The Joint Security area lies on the west coast of the DMZ. It’s where the armistice was signed in 1953, and is where the two countries hold meetings and negotiations. There are several buildings there that have been built for these talks. These buildings are referred to as Conference Row. It is the only part of the DMZ where the two countries have men standing face to face. One can visit the Joint Security Area through several tourism agencies, but visitors are required to sign a waiver that notes the possibility of injury or death.
Joint Security Area in DMZ
South Korean soldiers stand guards at the Joint Security Area (JSA) on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea. EPA-EFE/JEON HEON-KYUN
  • An area where no war is to be conducted and nothing can really be built has turned into a safe haven for animals. The area is often viewed -in this perspective – as one of the best habitats in the world. Endangered animals that call this area home include the Red-Crowned cane, the Siberian tiger, and the Amur leopard.
  • In the decades since the DMZ was established, South Korean forces have uncovered numerous attempts by North Koreans to violate the terms of the agreement and infiltrate the South with the intent of breaking the ceasefire. So far, four tunnels extending from North Korea into South Korea were discovered (the most recent in 1990) and capable of transferring up to an estimated 30,000 troops an hour.
  • The South Korean soldiers guarding the border technically are UN soldiers from the South Korean military because the UN controls the whole DMZ on the South Korean side.
  • About 28,500 American troops are still stationed in South Korea.
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