After seeing the conference center, we went to one of the sentry posts operated by the ROK / US forces (we are allowed to take photos of the scenery, but not the post itself), and then we went to see the location of the infamous ‘axe murder incident’ and the ‘Bridge of No Return’.
From the sentry post, we got our first view of a) the place where the axe murder happened b) the bridge of no return and c) Kijong-dong, the North Korean village inside the DMZ.
The armistice allows South Korea and North Korea to establish a single village within the Demiliterized Zone (DMZ). Both are near the Joint Security Area (JSA). The South Korean village is Daeseong-dong. It has about 200 inhabitants. The primary industry is growing rice, they are exempt from all taxes, and the per-capita income is very high. Only people who a) lived in the Panmunjeom area before the war b) are descended from people in group (a) or c) are women married to men in group (a) or (b) are allowed to settle in the village. However, our military escort says that the mayor has three daughters and wants to change the rules so that men may also marry into the village.
Kijong-dong is the North Korean village within the DMZ. Daeseong-dong has a very tall flagpole flying the South Korean flag, so the North Koreans felt that had to put up an even taller flagpole flying the North Korean flag in Kijong-dong. It is the third tallest flagpole in the world.
Unlike Daeseong-dong, Kijong-dong does not have any residents. People observing the village see that all of the lights turn on and off at the exact same time in the village, and high-resolution telescopes have found that many of the doors and windows are painted on. It also used to broadcast North Korean propaganda on loudspeakers. Thus it is known as ‘propaganda village’. Workers from the Kaesong Industrial Complex (which I will discuss more in the next post) sometimes come in to do maintenance.
I at first wondered why nobody is in the village – if North Korea is going to build nice buildings to impress the South Koreans with their ‘high quality of life’, why not put in some people to make it more realistic and likely to actually fool the South Koreans, or to simply let some people live somewhere nice. I was going to ask the tour guide, but I figured out the answer by myself – this village is so close to South Korea, it would be relatively easy for the people in the village to cross the border and defect.
Previously, North Korean, South Korean, and U.S. forces were able to move freely within the JSA. The North Koreans took advantage of this, and established a bunch of sentry posts on the South Korean side. One UN (South Korean / U.S.) sentry post was surrounded by North Korean sentry posts, and a poplar tree blocked visibility between this lone post and the only other UN post which could observe the lone post. Thus, it was decided that the poplar tree should be trimmed. The UN forces notified the North Korean forces in advance … and when the operation happened, the North Koreans came with axes, attacked, and murdered Captain Boniface and Lieutenant Barrett.
Three days later, the UN forces put in place ‘Operation Paul Bunyan’ – instead of merely trimming they tree, they decided to cut it down, and they brought a large guard with them to discourage further North Korean violence.
After this incident, it was decided that the Military Demarcation Line would be enforced in the JSA as well, and that the North Koreans and the South Korean / U.S. forces should be separated.
One of the most contested points in negotiating the armistice which brought about the ceasefire in the June 25th War (a.k.a. the Korean War) was the exchange of prisoners of war. Many of the prisoners held by the UN forces did not want to return to North Korea / China. North Korea and China demanded the return of all prisoners, but Syngman Rhee (the leader of South Korea) refused to let any prisoners be returned to North Korea against their will, and in fact released about 25,000 POWs within South Korea (all of them anti-communist) when the ceasefire negotiations were not going in the direction he wanted.
Eventually, it was arranged that all prisoners could either choose to stay in the country of their captivity, or to cross this bridge to return to their native country, but that if they crossed this bridge, they could never return. Hence the name ‘the Bridge of No Return’.
So that was the tour of the Joint Security Area. The tour then went on to Dorasan and the Third Tunnel, which I will describe in the next post. To end this post, I wish to note that, during the return trip to Seoul, we saw the movie Joint Security Area on the bus.