News / Asia

Korean War Relic Steadfastly Monitors 58-Year Truce

The ROK soldier on the right positions himself so as to be a difficult target for the North Koreans should shooting erupt at the JSA (File Photo - February 2011).
The ROK soldier on the right positions himself so as to be a difficult target for the North Koreans should shooting erupt at the JSA (File Photo - February 2011).

A group of observers, established in 1953 when a ceasefire was declared in the Korean War, still monitors the truce's validity, mainly from the peninsula's four kilometer-wide Demilitarized Zone. However, some of its attention has shifted to the disputed western maritime frontier.  As a result, Sweden has sent the former head of its navy to lead its delegation at the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission.

In the 58 years since its inception at the Korean armistice, the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission has downsized. Originally composed of 400 officers from four countries which did not participate in the war here, its only permanent composition now is five Swedish and five Swiss officers. Poland also sends over a few personnel to visit from Warsaw several times a year.

Rear Admiral Anders Grenstad, Head of Swedish Delegation to Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, October 19, 2011.
Rear Admiral Anders Grenstad, Head of Swedish Delegation to Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, October 19, 2011.

"I think if my government, back in the 50's, would have known what they were going to spend here for the coming 60 years they wouldn't volunteer so easily as they actually did," said Rear Admiral Anders Grenstad, who is heading Sweden's delegation.

It was assumed in 1953 that peace talks would lead to a treaty and the truce supervisors could return home in a year or two. Instead, the two Koreas, technically, remain at war.  And, the NNSC is still in place to monitor the truce and gauge whether military movements and exercises comply with it.

The United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission also has a monitoring role, investigating serious incidents, and is supposed to participate in any relevant negotiations. But the demise of the communist bloc in Eastern Europe in the 1990s meant the end for the NNSC delegations from Czechoslovakia and Poland who represented Pyongyang's side.  North Korea blames the United States for destroying the NNSC's neutrality. According to the North, the continued presence of the Swiss and Swedish officers at Panmunjom is "a poor charade."

Despite the setbacks, Admiral Grenstad says the NNSC's remaining components persevere.

"It's sad that we don't have a body that works on both sides," he said. "Sweden, Switzerland and Poland, we will keep on doing this job according to the armistice agreement as long as we are needed here.  And I think it's good, both for the North and for the rest of the world that there is a neutral and impartial body here supervising the armistice agreement."

A scene reminiscent of the Cold War era still plays weekly in one of the three blue conference houses straddling the two Koreas. The Swiss and the Swedes sit down on the northern side of the line in the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom. They prepare a summary of their weekly meetings for the North Koreans.

"These documents, signed then by the Swiss general and by me; we open the door to North Korea, we wave with the papers and show 'we have mail for you' and we put it in the mailbox," he explained. "They must have a very lousy mail service over there because they never get their mail. But they know it's there if they want to read it. So, of course, they're sending the signal to us: "We don't recognize you."

Some of the commission's attention has shifted to the coastal waters off the western Korean coast. The sea is not mentioned in the armistice. The maritime Northern Limit Line was observed by Pyongyang until the 1990's. North Korea now claims a more southerly demarcation line. And that has led to a series of clashes in the waters.

The most serious and recent events took place last year. A South Korean warship was sunk, killing 46 sailors. An international investigation concluded the Cheonan vessel was hit by a North Korean torpedo. Pyongyang denies any responsibility. That was followed by North Korea's shelling of Yeonpyeong island, where four people died. The admiral says South Korea's subsequent artillery firings in the contentious waters last November were ill advised.

"We did not think it was appropriate in the end of November last year where actually there had been shelling taking place because that there could be a spark, of course," he said.

However, Grenstad, whose three decades in the navy has focused on littoral waters, says he does understand that South Korea, having been provoked, wanted to demonstrate resolve to the North and to its own people. But the neutral observer from Sweden says the maritime boundary dispute between the two Koreas can only be settled by political leaders, not by military force.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Hong Kong Democracy Calls Spread to Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are China’s two 'special administrative regions' which gives them a measure of autonomy More

After Nearly 2 Years, Pistorius Remains Elusive

Reporter Anita Powell reflects on her experience covering the Olympic athlete's murder trial More

Kenyan Coastal Town Struggles With Deadly June Attacks

Three months after al-Shabab militants allegedly attacked their town, some Mpeketoni residents are still bitter, question who was really behind the assaults More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africai
X
Luis Ramirez
September 15, 2014 11:01 PM
President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africa

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid