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

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    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.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.