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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 19:39 GMT
Eyewitness: Korean no-man's land
Soldiers from North and South korea face off against each other
Soldiers on the two sides are often within arm's reach
By the BBC's Caroline Gluck in North Korea

The DMZ - the de-militarised zone separating Communist North Korea from the capitalist South - is the world's most heavily fortified frontier.

It is more than half a century since both sides went to war - but a peace treaty was never signed.

It's a tragedy that we cannot talk to each other even though we are facing each other

Lieutenant-Colonel Kim Kwang-gil
The two Koreas still remain technically at war and observe an armed truce. Nearly two million troops are stationed either side of the buffer zone.

I have been allowed on a rare guided tour of the North Korean side of the border zone.

My guide, Lieutenant-Colonel Kim Kwang-gil, spins off the facts and figures about the DMZ.

It is generally agreed that the war began when North Korea invaded the South, but the North insists that the Americans started it and that even the truce was a victory for the North.

"The US knelt down before the Korean people and signed the agreement," says the lieutenant-colonel. "Supreme Commander Kim Il-sung said the signing of the agreement was the victory of the Korean people over the US.

"This victory was possible thanks to the wise leadership of Kim Il-sung."

Message to South

The truce village of Panmunjom - at the centre of the DMZ - is still the only point of direct contact between the two Koreas. Soldiers face off against each other, some so close they are practically within arm's reach.

Lieutenant-Colonel Kim Kwang-gil
Lieutenant-Colonel Kim Kwang-gil: Blames the US
My guide has worked at Panmunjom for the past 10 years. I ask him if he had ever spoken to South Korean soldiers and if not, what he would want to tell them.

"I'd like to say we belong to the same nation but it's a tragedy that we cannot talk to each other even though we are facing each other," he says. "If we wanted to talk to each other, we'd be prevented by the Americans.

"Sometimes when we address them, they don't speak. They'd be punished for that.

"If I had a chance to talk to them, I'd tell them, 'Please don't aim your gun against your own nation; you must do something favourable to your own people.

"'You're just acting on the tune of the Americans who should stop and work to withdraw their troops from South Korea.'

"And if I had a chance to address the Americans I'd tell them to go home."

Barren land

At another point along North Korea's border, I stare out at across rolling hills. Another guide, Colonel Kang Ho Sok urges me to look through binoculars where you can see concrete structures built in the southern zone as anti-tank barricades.

We're one people, one nation

Colonel Kang Ho Sok
"I think it eternalises this division of the country," he says. "What else could it be for?

"At first the South Koreans tried to deny it but now they claim it's to defend the South from being invaded from the North.

"This is the only place in the world where wild animals cannot travel freely from one side to another but we're one people, one nation.

"It's a major embarrassment to have this big concrete wall dividing us."

The barren beauty of this no-man's land is deceptive. Deadly land mines have been laid to deter the enemy.

Re-unification is still the long-term goal, the dream of many soldiers patrolling this buffer zone. But many obstacles still lie in the way of the dream becoming a reality.

See also:

06 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Eyewitness: Christianity in North Korea
16 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: North Korea
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