I didn't realize before visiting South Korea how well guarded the dividing line between the two Koreas is. Of course, I knew about the demilitarization zone (DMZ), located at the 38th parallel, but little else.
In case you're unaware, technically the two Koreas are still at war. A peace settlement was never established. Rather, in 1953, a Korean Armistice Agreement was brokered to establish a buffer zone between the countries. This buffer zone extends through the country for about 160 miles and is 4 miles in width.
There is one area in the DMZ where direct contact occurs. This place is called the Joint Security Area (JSA). All negotiations between the two sides have occurred here over the years. The Military Demarcation Line runs directly through the conference tables located at the JSA.
There have been numerous incidents between the two sides over the years at this close contact area, including the killing of two American soldiers in 1976, in what is known as the axe murders. The South Korean side was trimming a tree to get a better view of the north side of the line. Although the north initially agreed it could be done, rather than chopping down the tree, they took offense when it occurred and killed two Americans with an axe. But that's another story.
I want to speak to yet another controlled area of the country called the Civilian Control Line (CCL) which requires special permission for South Koreans (or anyone) to access. It protects an area of land that approaches the DMZ to further protect incursion. The CCL is drawn anywhere from 5 to 20 mikes from the actual DMZ. Confusing? Yeah a bit!
So what do you think? Should I take one step over the line? Dare I approach enemy territory?
So far so good. I don't hear any gun fire yet. Maybe it will be alright if I just go a little ways?
Actually, for a small fee of a couple of dollars you are allowed access to a very limited area within the Civilian Control Area. A short walk into the area of maybe 100 yards or so is offered to the tourist.
Gazing across to North Korea.
This is the Peace Bridge. It is here where prisoners of war have crossed over through the years.
On my trip to Korea this was one of the three things I most wanted to see. The other two being the mountains in the northeast, and the island of Jeju. I was not disappointed by my visit to the DMZ. It brought home to me just how fragile the peace is between these two (once one) countries, and the precarious nature of life for the South Koreans.
I'll leave you with a short video: