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History of the DMZ

How did the DMZ become the boundary between North and South Korea?

The World War II ended on August 15, 1945 with Japan’s unconditional surrender. The war was over but the Korean peninsula was faced with a more complicated state of crisis.

At the Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers that took place in December 1945, the US, the UK, and the USSR discussed establishment of the US-USSR Joint Commission and trusteeship of the Korean peninsula for a certain period of time. The Korean people were divided to those who stood for trusteeship and those who against it, and the country was ultimately separated: the government of the Republic of Korea was established in the south on August 15, 1945 and that of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north on September 9, 1948.

With strong military power, North Korea started the Korean War on June 25, 1950, in the name of liberation of the south and reunification of the peninsula. Soldiers kept fighting in continuous battles in the war, which was faced with a new phase on June 30, 1951, when General Matthew Bunker Ridgway, Supreme Commander of the United Nations forces proposed a ceasefire talk to the Communist Army. The talk kept being broken down and resumed and finally representatives of the United Nations Command and those of North Korea and China signed the Armistice Agreement on July 27, 1953. As a result, the DMZ was created between North and South Korea—a division, not reunification of the peninsula.

Let’s look at the history of conflicts and confrontation over the DMZ

In the 1960s, the DMZ got heavily armed with weapons. North Korea established fortified positions at a wide area within the northern DMZ and carried out armed provocation by sending armed guerrillas to the south, for example, the Blue House raid by armed guerrillas on January 21, 1968 (the January 21 Incident). It also perpetrated the Axe Murder Incident on August 18, 1976 in Panmunjeom. Even since then, North Korea didn’t stop provoking the south and even attempted to neutralize the NNSC*, truce supervision agency, by deporting representatives of Czechoslovakia and Poland one by one after 1993.

※The NNSC (Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission) inspects to ensure the Armistice Agreement is implemented. Since the agreement was signed in 1953, the NNSC was established in Panmunjeom, in which members of Switzerland and Sweden were dispatched by the United Nations Command and Czechoslovakia and Poland by North Korea.

What efforts have been made to use the DMZ for peaceful purposes?

Efforts have been made in various forms to use the DMZ for peaceful purposes regardless of the times, whether it be during the Cold War or the post-Cold War era. Meaningful suggestions have been made till today. Representative suggestions during the Cold War include the first proposal of “Use of the DMZ for Peaceful Purposes” by the Military Armistice Commissionon June 12, 1971 and “Construction of Peace City in the DMZ” by President Roh Tae-woo in 1988.

In the post-Cold War era, the suggestions started to take the forms of specific efforts and achievement, for example, the signing of the first agreement between the two Korea on the use of the DMZ for peaceful purposes (Inter-Korean Basic Agreement) in 1991; Geumgangsan Tour that started in 1998; connection of Gyeongui Line, Donghe Line, and roads since the inter-Korean summit talk on June 15, 2000; and the first product manufactured in the Gaeseong Industrial Complex in December, 2004.

Let’s look at the new value of the DMZ and its changed status

The DMZ boasts the natural ecological environment with no contact from human beings for more than half a century. It is a history museum that dreams of reunification of the Korean peninsula. (The mouth of Hangang River west of the DMZ and the surrounding area have been playing a central role on the Korean peninsula for long since the era of Three Kingdoms, Unified Shilla, Goreo, and Joseon.) The natural environment of the DMZ as well as its historical significance has become Korean people’s value that neither side could abandon or deny. That’s why we have to turn the DMZ, in which the past and the present history and the natural environment co-exist, to a unified land in a peaceful manner.