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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy 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.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid