|Volunteers visit the scene of National Division|
At 10AM, July 30th, staff members of the NKHR and ACHR, as well as 40 volunteers boarded the bus headed towards Imjingak. Today’s trip was meant for interns and volunteers, who have never been to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ); the schedule consisted of visits to the 3rd Underground Cave, the Observatory on Mt. Dora, Mt. Dora Station, and Panmunjom.
Due to the tight schedule, we had lunch soon after arriving at Imjingak, even though it was before noon. Then we headed to the Observatory on Mt. Dora, located in the northernmost part of the western front Military Demarcation Line (MDL). We first listened to the narrative explanation about North Korea and proceeded to the binoculars. Nobody could lift their eyes off them, having heard that one could see through binoculars the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, the outskirts of Gaeseong, Mt. Songak, Geumam Valley, Jangdan Station, and the Statue of Kim Il-sung.
Soon we moved to the 3rd Underground Cave, located right next to the Observatory. Four underground tunnels have been uncovered until now, among which the 3rd was discovered in 1978. It is 2 meters high and wide, 73 meters deep, and about 1.6 kilometers long, although only 265 meters are available to observation on foot. That it is merely 44 kilometers away from Seoul, and 30,000 soldiers per hour can move through it sent a chill down our spines. Before even 10 minutes had passed, we felt our breath running short. If walking through the tunnel even for such a short time is tiring, how many laborers would have been sacrificed to build this tunnel aimed for invasion of the South? As we walked, we passed the sign telling us that North Korea’s excuse for the tunnel was that they mistook it for a coal mine; later we faced the signpost telling us to head back, as there was only 700 meters left to North Korean territory. Everyone was surprised and sad that they were so close to North Korean soil. Next we turned to the exhibition chamber to see the equipment North Korean soldiers had when digging the tunnel, as well as miniature models of the DMZ. I hoped that this visit would be a memorable experience to all of our crew.
*at Mt. Dora Station
We visited Mt. Dora Station next. Mt. Dora Station is within the Civilian Control Zone and was one of the stations of the Gyeongui railway line, which links Seoul and Sinuiju. This site has become symbolic of the wishes for Korean reunification after Presidents Kim Dae-jung and George W. Bush visited it on February 20th, 2002. Upon seeing signposts indicating that the station was 205 kilometers from Pyongyang, I wished that it would later become the center of commercial transportation that links not only North and South Koreas but also Siberia and Europe. That the station was not the last in the South but the first to the North led me to ponder many things.
The highlight of today’s trip was the visit to Panmunjom. As entry to Panmunjom itself is restricted, to most of us this trip was the first. Even to me, visiting Panmunjom, which is associated with the Never-returnable Bridge and the Axe Slaughtering, was a special experience. After going through a rigorous identification-checking process, we entered and were shortly briefed on the site.
We were handed entrance permits that said “UNCMAC (UN Command Military Armistice Commission) Guest.” These were meant to prove to the North Korean forces that we were guests of the UNCMAC and that we were certified to enter. A bus was allotted to us, on which we began the tour of Panmunjom. First stop, the House of Freedom. It was a venue on the Southern side used for North-South communications of all sorts. Beyond the House of Freedom and the Palgakjung the Panmungak, which is on the Northern side of the DMZ, came to our sight. As we were taking pictures, we could see a North Korean soldier looking at us with binoculars, curious about what we were doing. Descending from Palgakjung, we headed to the conference hall made famous from pictures and movies. The conference hall is used for generals’ meetings, colonels’ meetings, and staff officers’ meetings. The table in the middle of the conference hall is the dividing line between North and South; one treads on North Korean soil once he steps over the line. In the conference room, however, movement is free, regardless of dividing lines.
The Never-returnable Bridge, where prisoners of war were traded after the ceasefire, and the site of the Axe Slaughter of 1976 were the last on our schedule. We could feel the enormous tension from back then just by looking around the places. Having finished our tour of Panmunjom, we went to dinner at Paju. This tour certainly had an impact on us; I hope it becomes a chance for us to think about something more than just the North-South Division.
Sanghee Bang, Junior Programs Officer for Research
Translated by Min Tae Cha, Intern for Campaigning
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