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News Navigator: What kind of place is the Korean 'truce village' of Panmunjom?

(Mainichi)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the "Truce Village" of Panmunjom, where U.S. President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on July 1.

    Question: U.S. President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Panmunjom on the border between North and South Korea. What kind of place is this?

    Panmunjom is seen in this file photo taken in 2015. (Mainichi/Takuma Suzuki)

    Answer: In the Korean War that broke out in 1950, the United Nations Command on the South Korean side, consisting mainly of U.S. troops, fought fiercely with the Chinese-North Korean Command. Ultimately neither side made major headway, and it was near the 38th parallel north between North and South Korea, at the village of Panmunjom, that the two states signed their armistice agreement on July 27, 1953. That is why it has been seen as a symbol of division between the two Koreas. It is now a popular place for foreigners to visit from the South Korean side.

    Q: There are quite a few buildings there, aren't there?

    A: Lying about 60 kilometers northwest of Seoul, the strip of land forms the Joint Security Area (JSA) between the United Nations Command and the North Korean side. It contains the Military Armistice Commission building with the military demarcation line running through its center. On the South Korean side are Freedom House and Peace House; while on the North Korean side are facilities such as Unification Pavilion and Phanmun Pavilion.

    Q: With North and South Korea facing off against each other, isn't it dangerous?

    A: There is a demilitarized zone (DMZ) about 4 kilometers in width along the military demarcation line, measuring 2 kilometers on each side. The Joint Security Area is located within this zone, and hostile acts are strictly forbidden inside it. In 1976, however, two U.S. officers from the United Nations Command were killed by North Korean soldiers while cutting branches from a poplar tree in an attack that came to be known as the "poplar tree incident." And when a North Korean soldier fled over the border to the South Korean side in 2017, North Korean soldiers fired over 40 rounds at him in an attempt to stop him.

    Q: South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have met before in Panmunjom, haven't they?

    A: Three meetings have been held between the leaders since Moon became president. The first was in April 2018 and a second the following month were both held in Panmunjom. At the first one, the Panmunjom Declaration was signed. It calls for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and transformation of the armistice into a peace treaty to end the Korean War.

    (Answers by Shinichi Nishiwaki, Asia General Bureau)

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