November 11, 2012

DMZ: The Third Tunnel

North Korean troops dug several tunnels to South Korea through the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that acts as a buffer between the warring states. Only 44 kilometers away from Seoul, the infamous Third Infiltration Tunnel was discovered in 1978 on information provided by a North Korean defector. It was the third tunnel to be found but there are estimated to be over twenty tunnels crossing the Military Demarcation Line (MDL). The MDL was defined to be the land border between the two countries in their armistice agreement signed in 1953.

The tunnel walls are coated with coal although none is naturally present in the area. The North Koreans said they were just building the 1.6 km long tunnel for mining purposes and not as a means for sending thousands of troops into South Korea undetected during a surprise attack on Seoul. A sign in the tunnel mentioned that this was just another example of North Korean double handedness. The pathway is rather steep at a 30 degree angle of incline. The tunnel is high enough to accommodate most North Koreans, but a lot of tourists kept banging their yellow hard hats into the ceiling of the cave. The tunnel has been blocked off before the MDL by several barricades put up by the South Koreans.

After emerging from the tunnel into the bright sunshine, I went to the Dora Observatory overlooking North Korea on the 38th parallel. From here I could see Kijongdong, a movie studio like set of a village depicting the life of perfect harmony and luxury led by residents of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. South Koreans call it the Propaganda Village. A tall mast proudly waved the North Korean flag, built to one up the height of the flag pole constructed on the South Korean side. These are among the tallest flagpoles in the world. The South Korean tour guide asked whether there was any visual difference between the two lands. She indicated that on the North Korean side the mountains had no trees, since they had to use all the wood for heating and eating.

The nearby Kaseong Industrial Complex is a one of its kind unique joint venture between the divided states where around 50,000 North Korean labourers are employed by South Korean companies. Wages are very low, but still much higher than the North Korean norm. Chocolate bars are one of the favourite forms of payment, as they can be bartered in North Korea at an extravagant exchange rate for less delicious goods.

The Dorasan Train Station, completed in 2007, is the final stop on the South Korean side before entering the Hermit Kingdom. A billboard reminded me that it is "Not the last station from the South, but the first station toward the North." No commuter rail service exists today, but the shiny new station has been built in anticipation of the day when an unified Korean becomes a reality.


"If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner." - Nelson Mandela