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North Korea – South Korea (KPKR): Joint Security Area (JSA) in The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

North Korean soldiers guarding the Military Demarcation Line (MDL).  The MDL of separation between the belligerent sides at the close of the Korean war forms North Korea's boundary with South Korea. A demilitarized zone (DMZ) extends for 2,000 meters (just over 1 mile) on either side of the MDL. Both the North and South Korean Governments hold that the MDL as only a temporary administrative line, not a permanent border. 1)

The Joint Security Area (JSA) is a 400m x 800m rectangular area, set up on the Military Demarcation Line within the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC) compound in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North Korea and South Korea. It is reserved for talks between the United Nations Command (UNC) and its Communist counterparts (North Korea and China).

When the JSA was first created, UNCMAC officials from both sides were allowed to move freely within the Area. However, that is not the case anymore with the enforcement of the dividing line (or the MDL) within the JSA in the wake of the ‘Axe Murder Incident of 18th August, 1976. 2)  The only boundary change of the Joint Security Area was the enforcement of the dividing line within the JSA after the murders of two American officers in 1976. Prior to this, the entire area was a neutral area, where members of either side had free movement within the JSA.

This report is on our visit to the DMZ at Panmunjom from the North Korean side in September 2011. 

1.  At the turn the highway from Pyongyang ends. The traffic sign says "70 km to Seoul".   

2. Close-up of the traffic sign.  

3.  Entrance gate to the Demilitarized Zone. The slogan actually says "Let's be friendly together" or "Let's make friendship". 
On the other side of the gate there is another text –
자주 통일! – which means something "Unification without outside help!". 3  

4.  This is the socalled "General Lecture Room" where visitors to the DMZ and JSA get a short lecture by military personell.

5.  A North Korean lance sergeant explains about the JSA.

6.  The lance sergeant provides in this short film general information about the Demilitarized Zone's Joint Security Area, but only in Korean language.

7.  At the North Korean entrance to the DMZ/JSA there is a number of huge, cube shaped tank traps placed on both sides of the narrow road.  Most likely explosives are placed under them. 

8.  Close at the tank trap.

9.  Another North Korean lance sergeant escorts us from the General Lecture Room to the Armistice Hall.

10.  On the way to the halls where the armistice was negotiated between 1951 and 1953 and eventually signed. 

11.  The armistice agreement discussed around this table said that each side agreed to move their troops back 2,000 m from the front line, creating a buffer zone 4 km wide.  
On the photo (from left): Ole Søndergård, Peter Hering, Hans Peter Nissen, Hother Hennings and Jan S. Krogh.

12.  A copy of the original armistice treaty is to be found in the hall where treaty was signed on 27 July 1953.  It is now a museum. 

13.  This was until August 1976 the main road from North Korea to the JSA.  On 18 Aug The Axe Murder Incident at 'The Bridge of No Return' resulted in the killing of two U.S. soldiers, and therefore that each side from this day had to keep their personell on their own JSA side. Previous to the incident both North and South personell could move freely inside the Joint Security Area.

14.  A close-up of the same photo shows a huge South Korean flag. 

15.  The Bridge of No Return is closed on South Korean side. The old sign to left says "Military Demarcation Line" (both in Korean and English). 15a)  It was used for prisoner exchanges at the end of the Korean War in 1953. The name originates from the claim that many war prisoners captured by the United States did not wish to return home. The prisoners were brought to the bridge and given the choice to remain in the country of their captivity or cross over to the other country. But if they chose to cross the bridge, they would never be allowed to return. 15b)

16.  At The 72-hour Bridge the North Korean side has an about 40 m wide and about 130 m long bottleneck in to their side of JSA which is surrounded by South Korean territory. This photo is taken just west of the bridge into the JSA and towards south. 

17.  The same North Korean border fence from a slightly other angle. 

18.  The vehicle is now driving onto the bridge. 

19.  The 72 Hour Bridge is about 170 m long. Photo from south towards north. 19)

20.  We stand next (on left side) to the Kim il-Sung signature monument towards south. To straight left is the North Korean Panmungak headquarters and to right a North Korean watch tower.

21.  Former DPRK President Kim il-Sung died on 8 July 1994.  This monument shall memory that the last document he signed, on the day before his death, was a document on the country’s reunification, bearing his signature “Kim Il Sung July 7, 1994.” 21)  The stone is situated about 70 m northeast of the MDL. 

22.  Tongilgak is a DPRK administrative building, corresponding to the Republic of Korea (ROK) "House of Peace," in which representatives from the DPRK and ROK meet. Tongilgak is referred to at times as "Unification Pavilion." 22) 

23. These two North Korean buildings on the Conference Row are not being used at the moment.  In the background is the South Korean Freedom House. 23)

24.  The JSA from the Panmun-gak roof – from North towards South.  The Military Demarcation Line divides the seven sheds situated on it. The grey buildings belong to North Korea, while the blue belongs to United Nation. Shed no 1 from left is used by North Korean soldiers ("KPA Recreation Room" also called "The Monkey House"). Shed no 2 (T-3) was the United Nations Command Joint Duty Office (UNCJDO) Conference Room.  Shed no 3 (T-2) from left is the conference hall used for tours (United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC) Conference Room). 24) The remaining sheds (no 4 (T-1), 5, 6 and 7) are or have been used by the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) which has its camp east of the JSA. The big building behind the Conference Row is the South Korean Freedom House. (Click for high resolution image - 3,1 MB.)

25. The JSA and Panmun-gak and the Conference Row watched from South towards North. The three Conference Row buildings to the left appear not to be in use at the moment. The NNSC uses only T-1 at the time being (Dec. 2011). 25)

26. The NNSC (left) and UNMAC (right) buildings from South Korean side. Photo ©: Per Sandgren, Swedish Armed Forces.

27. The JSA and Panmun-gak from South towards North from ground level. Photo: Aaron Crayne. 27)

28. A mosaic made from many photos of a tour video gives us a seldom view of the two western North Korean buildings watched from Southern side. Here it was among other bank services until the 1976 incident when free movement of personell over the MDL inside the JSA was banned. The building to right is the T-1. 28)

29.  A close-up of the photo above shows again the huge South Korean flagpole; it's located in the South Korean propaganda village Tae Song Dong and in a distance of 1640 m towards south.  
In 1980s, the South Korean government built a 98.4 m tall flagpole with a 130 kg South Korean flag.

30.  More towards west we can also observe the North Korean flag which flies above the propaganda village of Kichong-dong, exactly 2300 m in southwest. 
After the South Korean flag appeared, the North Korean government responded by building what was then the tallest flagpole in the world at 160 m with a 270 kg North Korean flag, in what some have called the "flagpole war." The flagpole was superseded as the world's tallest, following the construction of the flagpole in Baku's National Flag Square at 162 m. Both flagpoles have recently been topped by the Dushanbe Flagpole in Tajikistan, at 165 m.

31.  Each side is in charge of this particular shed, the main conference hall,  for a period of 30 minutes at a time. Therefore each guided trip should be done in 20 minutes with 10 minutes between groups from each side. After the Axe Murder Incident in August 1976 these sheds are what is left from the Joint Security Area, as a common area for personell from both sides.  In this way the UNCMAC shed is a Korean condominia – the only Korean area situated on the Korean peninsula which people from both Korean republics may visit. The shed is about 136 m².   (The Kaesong Industrial Region - Kaesŏng Kongŏp Chigu - is a North Korean Free Economic Zone which permits South Korean companies to low-cost North Korean labour, but the zone is not open for the public.)

32.  On the South Korean side two officers are passing by.

33.  We have identified the person (wearing a black beret) to right to be one of the five men strong Swedish group of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC).  The task today can be described as maintaining the validity of the truce mechanism with the aid of a Swedish and Swiss 33a)  presence in the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea. NNSC has ongoing contact with the south side – United Nations Command. There is currently no contact with the north side. 33b)

34. NNSC Weekly Meeting with two delegations present. In the background is one observer from UNCMAC. Photo ©: Per Sandgren, Swedish Armed Forces.

35. The seconds of the NNSC meeting are put in a postbox at the northern side. The secretaries assist each other so nobody ends up on the wrong side of the door. Photo ©: Per Sandgren, Swedish Armed Forces.

36. NNSC observers on their way to the Blue Bridge. The gate is left open as a sign that NNSC delegates are working and out on the Conference Row. In the right side of the photo one can see a North Korean observation tower. Photo ©: Per Sandgren, Swedish Armed Forces.

37. This photo is taken from South Korean side and with South Korean military personell facing the Panmun-gak Hall. 37)

38.  The DMZ from the ground entrance to the Panmun-gak.  (Click on the photo to get up a larger version.)

39.  A short film taken in front of the conference sheds before we visited the middle blue one.

40.  The building is about 17 x 8 metres and is divided approximately on the middle.  During visits it is heavily guarded in order to avoid unauthorized passings of the MDL.  

41.  The de facto border between the two countries is marked by basically white stakes that are spaced 10 m apart, and runs from coast to coast. 41a) The white stakes indicated the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), the only place there are not white stakes is in the JSA between the buildings where the MDL instead is indicated by 43 x 13 cm slabs of concrete.  The MDL is where the front line was at the signing of the armistice.  41b)

42.  The North Korean guards are on watch at the Line only when there are visitors on the North Korean side. 

43. Representatives from Republic of Korea and North Korea meet at the Military Demarcation Line at Panmunjom, Republic of Korea, prior to the caravan of 501 cattle and 50 vehicles entering the Communist North Korea, Oct. 27, 1998. South Korean business tycoon Chung Ju-yung, founder and honorary chairman of Hyundai Group, donated 501 head of cattle and the vehicles to the famine-stricken country. Mr. Chung had given the North Koreans 500 head of cattle earlier this year in June. (U. S. Air Force photo by TSgt(s) Renee' Sitler) (Released)

44.  The caravan is waiting in order to be allowed to pass over the MDL into the Northern side. (U. S. Air Force photo by TSgt(s) Renee' Sitler) (Released).  The actual access road the caravan drove can be seen on this photo.

45. A caravan of 501 cattle and 50 vehicles enter North Korea in front of Panmungak from Panmunjom, Republic of Korea, Oct. 27, 1998. This is most likely the only occation after 1976 vehicles have passed over the Conference Row.  
(U. S. Air Force photo by TSgt(s) Renee' Sitler) (Released).

46.  Drivers cross back over to Panmunjom, Republic of Korea, after driving a caravan of 501 cattle and 50 vehicles into North Korea, Oct. 27, 1998. They appear to be walking between T-1 and T-2. (U. S. Air Force photo by TSgt(s) Renee' Sitler) (Released).

47. The southern side is waiting  between T-2 and T-3 for a repatriation for the remains of a dead person from the northern side. Photo ©: Per Sandgren, Swedish Armed Forces.

48. The coffin is transported by the northern side to the MDL where it is handed over to the southern side. 
Photo ©: Per Sandgren, Swedish Armed Forces.

49.  Only when one or several of the in total seven conference sheds are used; the parts may use the entire area inside them, but is not allowed to take one step on ground on the other side. 

50.  From our visit inside shed no 3.  Our guide Ms Kim translates from Korean.

51.  During the short visit I found my place at the head end of the table; both in South Korea (my right side) and in North Korea (my left side).  Hother is in the South while Hans Peter is in the North.  Notice the North Korean soldier we see through the window. 

52.  This photo which is taken from South Korean side towards the same window I was sitting behind on the photo over, shows how the de facto boundary (or MDL) at this shed goes with the windows. The MDL runs on middle of the longer lenght of the slab. That means the line is not exactly between the windows, but about on the edge between the window glass and its wooden frame. 52)

53.  A group photo during our short stay in South Korea.  (Ms Kim to right.)  Both sides have guards in the end of the room in order to prevent defectors.  During the decades a number of persons have defected in both directions. 51)

54.  An electric cable and two switches are located exactly under the middle of the table – probably right on the MDL.

55.  A final photo with our Joint Security Area soldier-in-charge.   


2. Tour DMZ

3. Many thanks to Mr Wang and Ms Chungah for the translation.

15a. French Wikipedia

15b.  English Wikipedia

19. Source: Tour DMZ

21.  Juche Philosophy Study Group (Malta)

22. Wikimapia

23. Wikimedia Commons. User Kallgan.

24. English Wikipedia:

25. Wikimedia Commons. Photo: Edward N. Johnson, U.S. Army, Public Affairs Officer.

27. Geolocation

28. The image is a mosaic made from photos of the video "Pan shot of the Korean DMZ."

33a.  Swiss Armed Forces

33b. Swedish Armed Forces

34-36. Photos with the kind permission of Lt. Col. Per Sandgren, Swedish Armed Forces.

36. Wikimedia Commons:

41a.  Examples on the white border poles we can see on the right side of this photo, below the North Korean observation tower.  
        The picture is taken towards the MDL from the southern side:

41b.  Doodlespace - A visit to the Korean DMZ

52.  Wikimedia Commons:

53.  English Wikipedia:

The page was first time published on 17/10/11. This page was last time updated 03/12/11 .