27 April 2004

A Cold Day for a Cold War: Part II – Inside the DMZ

Between Checkpoint Bravo and the JSA, there is no photography allowed. There are many smaller bunkers in the area, as well as rice fields and roads. The area is farmed by descendents of original relatives of the Panmun valley, they are exempt from military service, pay no taxes, earn around $82,000 a year, have subsidized housing and farm much bigger plots of land than their compatriots elsewhere in South Korea. Of course they live inside a rather tense area, have a strict curfew and must sleep in their own village 240 nights a year to retain the right to live there.

Anyway, we passed Guard Post 240, manned by the ROK 1st Infantry, which has a clear view several kilometers into North Korea. Nearby is Outpost Ouleutte, or OPO, which is manned by U.S. forces, at least until October. This is the last outpost inside the DMZ manned by U.S. forces, and U.S. forces claim it is the most strategic with the best view of the North. North Korea recently complained about the U.S. decision to leave the outpost, because leaving the DMZ to South Korea, which was not a signatory to the Armistice in 1953 (Syngman Rhee refused to sign, something that has ironically kept South Korea out of the main negotiations over the future of the Peninsula, as only North Korea, China and the United States signed the Armistice Agreement), was considered a violation of the Armistice Agreement. This is pretty much a moot point as South Korea HAS been the main force in the DMZ for years.

There is a quick reaction force in the DMZ not far from the JSA (Joint Security Area), which claims to be able to have its forces inside the JSA in full gear in 60-90 seconds. I guess these are the guys in the JSA movie that come as the lead South Korean characters are running back across the bridge from North Korean territory amid a hail of North Korean gunfire. After this, we passed United Nations Command (UNC) Checkpoint Charlie into the JSA, and were again permitted to take photographs.

Inside the JSA, we visited the Military Armistice Commission (MAC) building, inside which I crossed briefly into North Korean territory. There were no North Korean soldiers inside the building, just ROK soldiers at “ROK Ready,” a modified TaeKwonDo stance they stand at to be more intimidating to the North (They also wear large sunglasses and are taller than the average Korean). Outside, the ROK soldiers stand at the corners of the buildings facing north, only exposing half their bodies to give a smaller target. Apparently they technically have three-hour shifts to stand out there at the ready, but they are usually relieved after an hour and a half – still a fair amount of work to send a message.

On the North Side, as it was cold and windy (though the rain stopped for the rest of the day), there were no North Korean guards except one outside their main building. One note on brinkmanship, which is alive and well at the DMZ, is the North Korean building had a third story added on after the South Korean side built a building planned as a family reunion hall, and it was taller than the North Korean building. The North Korean flag in GiJongDong flys from a flagpole (well, tower actually) that stands somewhere around 120 meters high. It used to be shorter, but when the ROK put a 100 meter flag tower in DaeSungDong, the DPRK built a taller one.

No comments: