Day 4 (09/10/04) part 1: The DMZ and joint security area at Panmunjom
On day 4 it was time to visit the South- North Korean border area. Before we would go to Kaesong we went drove to Panmunjom the border area with the famous demilitarized zone and joint security area. We took the motorway from Pyongyang to Kaesong, stopping at the marvellous Sohung rest house. We passed many check points, small towns and rice fields worked by soldiers. Later we stood face to face with American GI’s at the DMZ, a place where the cold war never ended. After our visit of the DMZ we would drive back to Kaesong.
The motorway form Pyongyang to Kaesong
We left Pyongyang early in the morning, the motorway to Kaesong is of very good quality (it has an high strategic military value), the trip took us about 5 hours. Very little other vehicles could be seen on the road, they were mainly army personnel and lorries transporting people or rice. There are checkpoint every 20 km or so, the soldiers give the stop sign but our driver would not slow down. Instead he blew the horn, the soldiers then opened the gates and saluted to us when they saw our plates. Free movement (travel) is not allowed for normal North Koreans. Halfway we stopped at the Sohung rest house a road side restaurant for a refreshment. It is a marvellous building, and a striking example of succeeded Socialist/Soviet style architecture. We left the Main road at Sariwon and took a small road through the country side. From here we passed some small villages and many rice and corn fields. Farmers were harvesting helped by many soldiers. We also passed a unit of special forces troops.
The DMZ at Panmunjom
From Kaesong there is a long and wide straight road to Panmunjom. It is very clear that this is a heavy militarized area, we saw many soldiers and had to pass multiple checkpoint on the route. The DMZ is the border with most arms, and soldiers concentrated in a small area in the world. During the car ride we were instructed to behave reserved as we are entering a war zone. After several kilometres driving from Kaesong we arrived and passed a gate into the first zone (1) of the DMZ. From here we drove to a complex (2) where the 1954 peace talks were held. From there we drove to the famous joint security area (3).
The entrance of the DMZ
The entrance of the DMZ exist of a gate and a small area with a shop and a visitors centre. Big colourful propaganda posters make clear that the division of Korea is the fault of the South and the US and that the North are the only real Korea. Here we met our two military guides, the senior one seemed to be a high ranking officer who was very friendly, only the most loyal soldiers are allowed to serve at the DMZ. Many North Korean soldiers have defected in the past and the North want’s to avoid this at all cost. Our guide explained the layout of the area using a big Marquette. We were asked to where DPRK pins to show the US GI’s we support North Korea. We also bought a view books and some other souvenirs. Next we got back in the car, passed a checkpoint and drove trough a long concrete ditch. There are big concrete blocks on a wall on both sides, these blocks can be dropped to close of the road in case of war. We saw people working in the fields on our way to the second part of the tour, the exhibition centre.
1953 Armistice village
Between the entrance of the DMZ and the joint security area lies the 1953 Armistice village. This is where the truce talks in 1953 where held. The meeting room has been left exactly as it was in 1953. In an other building we saw the room where the armistice agreement, ending the Korean War was signed. The documents are displayed on the original table’s with a North Korean and a UN flag. The military museum on the 38th parallel in this also in this area. This exhibitions shows the crimes committed by the US and South Koreans and glorifies the victory of the North Korean army. A peculiar artefact displayed was the "real" axe used in the famous axe incident. In 1976 American soldiers cut down a tree blocking their view in the Joint Security Area. The DPRK claimed the tree was on their ground and started shooting 3 US soldiers died in the incident. Many more soldiers have died during similar incidents.
The joint security area
From the exhibition centre we drove to the joint security area. This area is the only one of two borders between North and South Korea. (Secret) talks between the DPRK and ROK are held here on a regular base. We entered the Border building from where there was a good overview on the area. American GI’s came out of the US building to observe us with their binoculars. Giant poles with the North and South Korean flags can been seen in the fields. We also saw the fake village that the North Koreans build to convince the visitors from the South that North Korea is a prosperous country. Outside we visited the famous blue barracks where the border runs in the middle. Only visitors from the North can actually look inside the barracks.
Propaganda: History as told by the DPRK
Brief history: The DMZ
According to most history books, the 1950-53 Korean War ended in stalemate, after an unsuccessful attempt by the North to forcibly unify the Korean peninsula. But that is not what North Korean schoolchildren learn on school. They are taught that the war was started by the United States and ended in "glorious victory" for North Korea. It is generally accepted that North Korea started the war by storming across the 38th parallel. However, North Korea claimed it was simply defending itself against an offensive launched by the South. According the North Korean history books 400.000 American soldiers died during the war. American (consequently described as the "US imperialist aggressors") statistics claim that 30.000 forces were lost. No book notices the 1.5 Million North Korean and Chinese soldiers that have died. The support of the 300.000 Chinese troops is never mention in the books while their involvement caused a turnaround in the war and saved the DPRK from total defeat. A good example of falsifying history is the Panmunjom tourist guide we bought at then DMZ. The guide sums up all kind of photos, documents and maps that should prove that United States ordered the South Korean "puppets" to start the war.
When the Korean war ended inconclusively in 1953, a cease-fire line was placed at the 38th parallel, with a 2km wide demilitarized zone on either side. It is believed that more then a million DPRK soldiers, half a million ROK and thirty thousand US soldiers are stationed near the DMZ. There have been many lethal incidents on the DMZ during its existence. Also has the ROK found 4 tunnels form the North into their country. One tunnel was used for a commando mission where DPRK special forces infiltrated South Korea and tried to assassin ROK president Park in Seoul.