|SLUG: 47283 Mine Removal||DATE:||NOTE NUMBER:|
TITLE=KOREA / MINE REMOVAL
DATELINE=PAJU, SOUTH KOREA
INTRO: The South Korean military is currently undertaking one of most complex tasks it has ever been assigned: removing thousands of landmines buried on its side of the Demilitarized Zone (D-M-Z) a buffer separating it from its former Cold War enemy North Korea. The land is being cleared to make way for new transportation links for the first time in 50 years a physical sign North-South relations are beginning to warm. VOA's Alisha Ryu observed the dangerous work being carried out in an effort to bring peace to the Korean peninsula.
TEXT: This no man's land of shallow canyons and scrub bushes just south of the D-M-Z used to be one of the most desolate places on earth - a silent but tense symbol of the hostility and hatred that has existed since the war with the communist North ended in an armed truce nearly 50 years ago.
/// OPEN FOR SOUND OF HEAVY MACHINERY EST. AND FADE UNDER ///
Now, these same canyons echo loudly with the hum of heavy machines that are chewing up the earth and forging a cross-border corridor through the world's most heavily armed frontier.
The South began the de-mining project one and a half months ago. Its goal is to link the two Koreas together by rebuilding a severed railway line and a new four-lane highway through the D-M-Z. Both South and North Korea consider the rail and road projects the first concrete steps toward an eventual reunification of the peninsula.
/// OPEN FOR SOUND OF MACHINES CRUNCHING UP TREES AND YELLING ///
Remarkably, there have been no injuries during the project so far. To enhance safety, the South Korean government purchased two German-made vehicles called the "rhino" and the "minebreaker" that were used to clear mines in war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina. These gigantic machines mounted on treads and operated by remote control dig up the earth and undergrowth with a rotating drum fixed with spike-like steel blades. They often disable landmines by simply shredding them.
/// OPEN FOR SOUND OF MILITARY SPOKESMAN EXPLAINING THE DE-MINING PROCESS IN KOREAN EST. AND FADE UNDER ///
But during a recent media tour, the military displayed dozens upon dozens of landmines the machines have not been able to disarm. They serve as concrete examples of the enormous obstacles ahead for both Koreas as they attempt to forge peace and re-establish contact.
Regimental commander Park Byung-hee explains the different types of mines that are strewn across the 250 kilometer-long border.
/// PARK ACT IN KOREAN EST. AND FADE ///
He holds up an anti-personnel mine called an M-16. It is cylinder in shape with three prongs attached to it. He says when triggered, the mine jumps up into the air and sprays deadly shrapnel.
There are also the plastic-bodied M-14s known as "toe poppers" - the round and bulky M-15 anti-tank mines and the M-7 anti-vehicle mines. A total of a million mines are believed to lie on the south side of the D-M-Z alone. /// OPT /// Many of the mines date from the Korean War and look rusted, but are still potentially lethal. Even though the mines were marked and properly recorded, the military admits it is possible some of the minefields may have shifted due to flooding and soil erosion. /// END OPT ///
/// OPEN UP FOR SOUND OF EXPLOSIONS EST. AND FADE UNDER ///
To flush out hidden mines, soldiers routinely detonate dynamite to blast away suspect areas. But for clearing away small mines, the work sometimes has to be done by hand. For the handful of South Korean soldiers engaged in this risky task, it is a daily test of their strength and nerve.
/// OPEN FOR SOUND OF YELLING AND WATER BEING SPRAYED EST. AND FADE UNDER ///
Two soldiers sitting inside a reinforced box dangling precariously at the end of a crane blast powerful jets of water onto a buried landmine. The water clears away the dirt so that the mine can be marked for future detonation or removal. But the soldiers spraying the mine face the threat of the water accidentally triggering the mine or the box falling off the crane and onto the mine field.
/// OPEN FOR SOUND OF METAL DETECTOR EST. AND FADE UNDER ///
Other soldiers in the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit are assigned to sweep every square centimeter of the cleared areas on foot with metal detectors. For them, the greatest danger lies in encountering small modern plastic mines that often evade metal detectors. The soldiers good-naturedly decline to comment about their work. But the stoic look on their faces show the seriousness of the task each one must perform.
The good news is that the work is progressing at a faster pace than expected. The military says it has already cleared nearly half of the 430 thousand square meters it needs to clear. After that, all that remains is the work inside the one kilometer wide D-M-Z which could begin as early as March.
But South Korean officials say they have not yet seen any minesweeping operation near the border in North Korea. Over the years, the North Koreans are believed to have laid hundreds of thousands of mines on their side as well mostly copies of Soviet mines.
It may be months if not years before the economically-strapped North can open up the railway corridor on its side. Lacking the technology and the cash to buy sophisticated equipment, North Korean soldiers are said to be simply erecting tents and weeding the grass in the area for the time being. (Signed)