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Korean Demilitarized Zone

The Demilitarized Zone (or DMZ) in Korea is a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula that serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea. The DMZ cuts the Korean Peninsula roughly in half, crossing the 38th parallel on an acute angle, with the west end of the DMZ lying south of the parallel and the east end lying north of it. It is 248 km long and approximately 4 km wide.


The 38th parallel — which cuts the Korean Peninsula roughly in half — was the original boundary between the American and Soviet occupation zones established at the end of World War II, and became the border between North Korea and South Korea upon the formation of those two countries in 1948. (See Division of Korea for more details.) The Korean War began in 1950, and by 1951 the two sides involved had settled down into more or less of a stalemate position, roughly along the line the DMZ follows today. When a ceasefire was agreed upon in 1953, the DMZ was established along the stalemate line. Owing to the stalemate, large numbers of troops are still stationed along both sides of the line, each side guarding against what it sees as potential aggression by the other side.

Korean names for the DMZ

North and South Korea are still technically at war today, hence the DMZ's technical name in Korean, which is Hyujeonseon (Revised Romanization (RR))/Hyujŏnsŏn (McCune-Reischauer (MR)) (휴전선; 休戰線), which literally means "ceasefire line," implying only a break in hostilities, not a permanent end to them. In colloquial usage, the DMZ is more often called the Sampalseon (RR)/Samp'alsŏn (MR) (삼팔선; 三八線; "38th parallel"), a name likely coined at the end of World War II, when it would have been an accurate description of the North-South border.


Panmunjeom (RR)/P'anmunjŏm (MR) is the site of the negotiations that ended the Korean War and is the main centre of human activity in the DMZ. The village is located on the main highway and railway line (called the Gyeongui Line before division and today in the south and the P'yŏngbu Line in the north) connecting Seoul and P'yŏngyang. The highway is used on rare occasions to move people between the two countries (much like Checkpoint Charlie in Cold War Berlin), and the railway line is currently being reconnected as part of the general thawing in the relations between North and South. A new road and rail connection is also being built on the Donghae Bukbu (Tonghae Pukpu) Line.


Except in the area around the truce village of Panmunjeom and more recently on the Donghae Bukbu Line on the east coast, humans do not normally enter the DMZ, and 50 years of human absence have unintentionally created an abundant wildlife refuge.


A few tunnels have been discovered connecting North Korea to South Korea under the DMZ, which authorities in the south have alleged to be conduits for covert northern access to the south. The southern half of one of these tunnels (whose centre portion has been walled up since discovery) now operates as a museum, providing tours through the accessible portion of the tunnel.

See also