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, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

    You May Like

    Video Pop Icon Prince Quietly Helped Afghan Orphans for Years

    He sent thousands of dollars to help an aid group rebuild a training center for orphan boy and girl scouts in Kabul, but kept his involvement secret

    Mali, a Way Station for Syrians Headed to Europe

    Another door may be closing for Syrians fleeing the conflict in their country, this time in Africa

    Britain’s Muslims See London Mayor Race as Victory

    Mere running of 45-year-old former government minister and son of Pakistani immigrants Sadiq Khan seen by many as turning point

    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.
    Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labori
    X
    May 05, 2016 6:44 PM
    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labor

    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora