News

    The Korean DMZ: What Might Obama See?

    South Korean soldiers check barbed-wire fence near the border village of the South Korean soldiers check the barbed-wire fence near the DMZ  that separates the two Koreas since the Korean War (file photo).
    South Korean soldiers check barbed-wire fence near the border village of the South Korean soldiers check the barbed-wire fence near the DMZ that separates the two Koreas since the Korean War (file photo).

    As U.S. President Barack Obama prepares to visit the Demilitarized Zone dividing the Korean Peninsula, we take a look at the area and what it symbolizes.

    The Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea is the most heavily-fortified border in the world.

    Barbed wire, watchtowers and land mines line the DMZ, while across the nearly 250 kilometer-long stretch of land, an estimated two million troops - one million on each side - stand ready to resume battle at anytime.

    The DMZ was established in 1953 as part of the armistice agreement that ended combat in the Korean War. There has never been a peace treaty, and the two Koreas have remained in a formal state of war ever since.

    Balbina Hwang, visiting professor at Georgetown University and a former State Department adviser on Korean policy, says the zone reminds the world that the Korean War is not over.

    “This place is physically a reminder of the fact that the Cold War might have ended around the world, but it is still very much in place on the Korean Peninsula," said Hwang. "This is very much a relic of the beginning of the Cold War, and it’s still there, and it reminds us that the lives of millions and millions of people are in jeopardy every single day.”

    Although it is considered one of the most dangerous places on Earth, the DMZ has seen only isolated incidents of violence. In one of the most well-known cases, in 1976, North Korean soldiers killed two U.S. soldiers who were escorting a Korean work force using axes to trim a tree. The North Koreans killed the Americans with the workers' own axes.

    International observers monitor the cease-fire at the DMZ, while U.S. troops are stationed alongside the South Korean soldiers.

    Despite the threat of tensions, the zone - particularly the Joint Security Area where North and South Korean forces stand face-to-face - is a popular tourist attraction. Visitors can get a glimpse of North Korean soldiers and an apparently uninhabited town, what is referred to as the North Korean "propaganda village."

    VOA’s East Asia correspondent Steve Herman has visited the area and says the tours are strict, from U.S. Army escorts to instructions on appropriate clothing, to warnings against pointing at anyone on the North Korean side.

    “They get very upset. I mean, it’s very hard when you see something over there in the North, and you’re talking to someone you’re with, and you say, 'Hey, look at that over there,' and you start to point. I mean, I’ve done that. And the soldiers admonish you pretty quickly about it. Another thing that you will sometimes notice is how the South Korean soldiers stand behind these blue buildings. They obscure half of their bodies so as not to be a prominent target for the North Korean troops, so that does give you some indication of how hazardous the duty is at the JSA and in the DMZ," said Herman.

    The blue buildings belong to the U.S.-led United Nations Command. Tourists can go into one where the two sides have held negotiations. The building straddles the border, with the dividing line going straight through its negotiating table.

    Despite the signs of division, Won-Ki Choi, a senior reporter in VOA’s Korean Service, said the DMZ, which he has visited many times, can also be surprisingly calm.

    “The atmosphere is, sometimes it’s [a] very unrealistic feeling," said Choi. "Because in your brain, [you think] “Oh this is where the tragedy of the Korean division [occurred] and this is [a] very military intensive place, but if you go there, there is nothing. Just the military and there are some sound[s] of each side criticizing each other, so sometimes it’s [a] very peaceful atmosphere, but behind this peaceful atmosphere, is a very, very intensive structure of division, military is over there.”

    The zone has also become a common stop for U.S. presidents. When President Obama travels there for the first time on Sunday, he follows in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who took over after his father Kim Jong Il's death in December, visited the DMZ earlier this month.

    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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora