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Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

The military demarcation line (MDL) of separation between the belligerent sides at the close of the Korean war forms North Korea's boundary with South Korea. A demilitarized zone (DMZ) extends for 2,000 meters (just over 1 mile) on either side of the MDL. Both the North and South Korean Governments hold that the MDL as only a temporary administrative line, not a permanent border.

The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is an area of land encompassing 4 kilometers-wide strip of land straddling the 151 mile long Military Demarcation Line (MDL). The 27 July 1953 Armistice Agreement established the DMZ along the approximate line of ground contact between the opposing forces at the time the truce ended the Korean War.

The opposing sides agreed under the Armistice Agreement from entering the territory, air space or contiguous waters under control of the other. Even though North Korea committed violations at sea and in the air, and infiltrated armed agents along South Korea's extensive coastline and outlying islands, it is in and along the DMZ that most Armistice violations have occurred.

The UNCMAC Secretariat was the staff agency responsible for ensuring that UNC units complied with the 1953 truce. This responsibility extended from making sure UNC and component forces did not violate the truce to investigating and reporting to MAC all the facts surrounding violations by either side. Two UNC manned guard posts manned by the DMZ Civil Police overlook the Swiss/Swedish camp of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC), the JSA, and the ROK village of Taesong-dong.

Taesong-dong, the only authorized village in the UNC portion of the DMZ, was located approximately one-half kilometer southwest of the JSA. Two such villages, one on each side, were authorized in a subsequent agreement to the Armistice. The residents of Taesong-dong were required to be either original inhabitants or direct descendants of the villagers who were residing there when the Armistice was signed in 1953.

Directly across from Taesong-dong was the North Korean village of Kichong-dong or "Peace Village," as it was called by the North. UNC troops called it "Propaganda Village" because over the years the North had broadcast its propaganda from loud speakers located in the vicinity of the village. Although North Koreans work the fields by day, they were all removed from the area before dark and only a small custodial staff actually lives in Kichong-dong.

Also located in the JSA was the "Bridge of No Return." In 1953, this bridge was used to return prisoners of war of both sides, who were allowed to make a free irreversible choice on whether to return to their place of origin. For the North Korean and Chinese prisoners of war held by the UNC, this meant choosing between living in the South or Nationalist China (Taiwan), or being repatriated to North Korea or the People's Republic of China. Many thousands chose not to return to their communist homelands. Only a handful of prisoners held by the Korean Peoples Army/Chinese Peoples Volunteers went north.

Near the "Bridge of No Return" was the site of the 18 August 1976 "ax murder" incident. In the aftermath of that incident, the JSA was divided similarly to the rest of the DMZ. No military guard personnel from either side were permitted to cross the MDL, although a limited number of MAC members and assistants, NNSC personnel and civilians were permitted to cross in either direction on certain occasions.

The Republic of Korea (ROK) Army provided most of the front line military forces south of the DMZ, as well as the 1,024 DMZ Civil Police authorized by the Armistice who manned 114 guard posts on the southern side of the MDL. A small number of American soldiers performed DMZ duties inside the DMZ. They were assigned to the United Nations Command (UNC) Security Force-Joint Security Area (JSA), which supported the Military Armistice Commission (MAC) either as security guards or in administrative, communications and logistics missions. With broad US force reductions in Korea, these numbers were reduced to only 40 US personnel when the administrative control of the Joint Security Area was passed to the Republic of Korea in 2004.

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