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Place for Korean talks possible flash point inside the border

Seoul, South Korea – The two rare Koreas talks were held on Tuesday in the jointly controlled area of ​​the world's most heavily fortified border, the same place where North Korean soldiers recently sprayed bullets on a comrade who was doing a daring race for freedom.

The defector soldier was beaten five times, but he survived and is now recovering in South Korea. The dramatic video of his defection, launched by the UN command led by the United States, showed again why the area, called Panmunjom, is known as one of the most terrifying places on Earth.

On Tuesday, Panmunjom captured international headlines again as a group of senior North Korean officials walked on concrete slabs that form a military demarcation line for their first formal talks with South Korea in more than two years.

A look at Panmunjom, whose mystique makes the place not only a possible flash point, but also a place for conversations and a tourist site:


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9659002] Panmunjom is located within the demilitarized zone of 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) wide, a buffer zone created at the end of the Korean War of 1950-53. It was once a dark agricultural village, where the armistice that put an end to the Korean War was signed.

No civilians live, and a group of blue huts forms a joint security area overseen by North Korea and the UN Command.

The DMZ, 248 kilometers (154 miles) long, is guarded on both sides by mines, barbed wire fences, tank traps, and combat-ready troops. But Panmunjom is the only DMZ location where troops from North Korea and South Korea are only a few meters away. North Korean soldiers with lapel pins and portraits of the latest North Korean leaders wear binoculars to guard the south, while South Korean high troops wearing aviator sunglasses remain immobile as statues.

This unique scene makes it a popular tourist spot, attracting curious visitors on both sides of the village.



The most notorious incident in Panmunjom occurred in the summer of 1976, when two US Army officers were killed by North Korean soldiers armed with axes.

US officials had been sent to cut a 12-meter tree that obstructed the view from a checkpoint. The attack prompted Washington to send B-52 bombers with nuclear capability into the demilitarized zone to intimidate North Korea. The then North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, late grandfather of the current ruler Kim Jong Un, expressed regret for the incident before the animosities calmed down.

In 1984, North Korean and United Nations soldiers exchanged fire after a Soviet citizen defected to the south Korean sector of the truce village. The incident left three North Korean soldiers and one South Korean soldier dead.

The rival Koreas have had similar violent confrontations in other parts of the demilitarized zone in the past. There have been no deadly clashes in recent years, but an explosion of landmines in 2015 that mutilated two South Korean soldiers pushed the Koreas to the brink of armed conflict. South Korea blames North Korea for the explosion.



The military officers of North Korea and the United States Command used to meet at Panmunjom to supervise the armistice. In recent years, it has been used for occasional conversations between the two Koreas.

The talks on Tuesday took place at the Casa de la Paz, a conference room run by Seoul located in the southern half of the village. The facility has a team that can feed real-time television images in closed circuit conversations with the leaders of South Korea in Seoul. It also allows North Korean leaders in Pyongyang to listen to the talks, according to South Korean media.

North Korea operates another conference room, called "Panmungak", on the north side of Panmunjom.

Prior to the Tuesday meeting, the most recent high-profile meeting in Panmunjom was in August 2015, when the negotiators of the rivals met for almost 40 hours and reached an agreement that allowed them to withdraw from a confrontation military caused by the explosion of the land mine.


U.S. Presidents and other senior officials have often traveled to Panmunjom and other areas of the demilitarized zone at times of heightened tension on the Korean peninsula. They have looked through binoculars across the border and have pledged to push the US military alliance with South Korea.

In 1993, then-President Bill Clinton visited Panmunjom when the nuclear crisis in North Korea first broke out. In 2002, President George W. Bush visited the demilitarized zone a few weeks after labeling North Korea as an "axis of evil."

In 2012, before a planned launch of North Korean long-range rockets, President Barack Obama visited a frontline military camp south of the demilitarized zone and told US troops that they are protectors of the "border of the freedom". Obama's trip came days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited Panmunjom.

In November 2017, President Donald Trump the demilitarized zone to underline his stance against North Korea's nuclear program when he arrived in South Korea as part of a tour of Asia, but his plans were thwarted by fog that prevented it from landing in the border area.

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