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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 February 2005, 10:23 GMT
S Korean schoolgirls demob happy
A graduate of Taesungdong Elementary School Kim Na-young (2nd L) celebrate with relatives as a South Korean soldier (F) escorts them (16/2/05)
Several military were among the 50 guests
Two South Koreans have graduated from school in one of the most tense places on earth, the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea.

The two girls attended the only school in the South Korean border village of Taesung, built in 1953 as a symbol of North and South Korea's post-war truce. Taesungdong Elementary School has just 12 pupils.

Despite the proximity of thousands of North Korean troops, the girls said they had never been scared at school.

One girl's father said he was actually more concerned about her leaving.

KOREAN BORDER
Heavily fortified border has separated the two Koreas since 1950-53 war
240 km long and 4 km wide, the DMZ takes up about 0.5% of Korean peninsula
N Korea has 1.1m man army, S Korea and US forces total more than 700,000

"The kids grow up here, and the military presence in the DMZ is a way of life. They get used to it. I am much more worried about her going to middle school than going here," he said, explaining that other schools have far more students and fewer resources.

Taesungdong Elementary School, in full view of impoverished North Koreans just metres away, underscores the wealth gap between the two countries.

It boasts 14 teachers and numerous classrooms, large-screen televisions in most of the rooms and a well-equipped computer lab.

"I never want to go to North Korea," said 13-year-old Kim Na-young, one of the girls who graduated. "I can see them farming with ox ploughing the fields. It looks very primitive."

Taesung village is home to about 200 people, most of whom are farmers who grow rice, ginseng and tend livestock.

The only North Korean village in the DMZ, Kijongdong, is believed to be empty, or sparsely populated.




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