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Published: November 4th 2007
Razor wire and guard posts ...
No visit to South Korea would be complete without taking advantage of the opportunity to step inside the empire of Kim Jong Il ... even if it is only a couple of steps into the North ... and under the protection of the Joint Services Area (JSA) personnel.
I decided to do a tour with the USO (United Services Organisation) as this tour guarantees a visit to Panmunjom and is about a 3rd of the price of some of the other tours. It did mean an early start as the tour leaves from one of the US bases in Seoul, Camp Kim at 7.30am. The drive by bus along the Hangang River starts to set the scene as all along the river are a couple of rows of razor wire lining the banks with manned security towers at regular intervals. The ROK (Republic of Korea) forces employ some very technical skills in identifying any attempts to tamper with the fence - white rocks pushed into the fence and along the base, stacks of white stones. If anyone tampers with the fence they knock them out/over and this would be noticed during the regular patrols. Simple, but clever and effective.
At Camp Bonifas ... Sgt Bickerstaff
1st stop was Camp Bonifas for the military briefing on the history of the conflict between North and South and the establishment of Panmunjeom, the area set aside for talks between the North and South on the ceasefire line. The drive from Camp Bonifas passed through the southern defensive lines which run across the entire of the Korean peninisula - 1st the anti tank wall, then the mine fields, then another couple of rows of razor wire - all this before you reach the actual DMZ which is really the 'neutral' area between the South and North defences.
At Panmunjeom the border between North and South cuts through a number of buildings - grey for north - blue for south. We went into one of the blue buildings which is the one used for ceasefire talks. The border runs through the table in the middle of the room and for security ROK soldier were posted in front of the door leading to the north. The ROK soldiers are very impressive as they stand in a Taekwondo stance and are completely focused on their duties - rule 1 - don't interfere with the ROK soldiers.
Outside the border is
The Southern End
marked by a concrete line in the building area and outside of that white posts spaced 10 m apart occasionally interspersed with signs. This is more obvious at the next stop in the DMZ, an observation post looking down to the Bridge of Freedom, site of the infamous 'poplar' incident ... in a nutshell some US soldiers accompanied a tree trimming operation which the N Koreans didn't like and showed their unhappiness by taking the opportunity to hack a few of them to death with axes. While we were standing looking down at that site from the observation post, we could also look across at a N Korean observation post and see them watching us - rule 2 - don't point, make faces, attempt to communicate with the N Korean soldiers - apparently this could give them an 'excuse' to behave in a hostile manner - I wasn't going to argue!
Unfortunately the day was very foggy so we didn't get a good view of the North & South villages which have been set up opposite each other with very large flagpoles (you'll have to look them up yourself!). It is worth noting that there at least are villagers
Between North & South
in the one on the South - the north is unoccupied.
Leaving the DMZ it was off to the Dora Observatory which is the closest South Koreans can get to the DMZ - once again the fogginess of the day limited visibility. The most interesting thing about that was driving up the hill on a road with minefields on either side ... a time to pray that the bus' steering was in good shape!
Next stop ... the 3rd Tunnel. North Korea has dug (to date) 4 tunnels under the DMZ in an attempt to provide an easy way to move troops into the South. So far they have all been found, but there may be a 5 or 6 or ... you get the picture. The 3rd tunnel has been turned into a bit of a tourist experience. Down a steep tunnel (the interception tunnel) then along a wet, rough hewn tunnel to the end where the tunnel has been closed up (more razor wire) then back for a long, slow walk back up.
Back after that to Seoul where I tagged along with a couple of girls to the War Museum just to keep the
In North Korea
Just ... darn ... no stamp for the passport
military theme rolling. This place is huge with massive grounds, very impressive architecture and a lot of planes, tanks, etc on display in the grounds. To bring home the military nature of the place, there were ROK soldiers doing ceremonial drills in the main courtyard, so we got some free entertainment although there would be some unhappy soldiers cleaning boots that night, as a few rifles got dropped. The displays were impressive and the dioramas inside provided a good, but bloody insight into Korea's warfare over the year.
All militaried out so pretty stuff from here on in (mainly) cheers Jane
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