At DMZ, no signs of elevated tensions

DEMILITARIZED ZONE, Korea — South Korean soldiers, their hands balled into fists, glared across the Demilitarized Zone on Thursday at their North Korean counterparts, who took turns peering through binoculars at what was happening on the other side of the line that divides the two Koreas.

The militaries of both the North and South have been on elevated states of alert since Monday’s announcement that long-time North Korean leader Kim Jong Il had died.

However, the posturing and gamesmanship Thursday on both sides of the Military Demarcation Line at the DMZ’s Joint Security Area is a scene that has been played out routinely on an almost daily basis for decades at what former President Clinton once called “the scariest place on Earth.”

There has been no interruption in tour groups visiting the JSA this week, despite fears that Kim’s death and the turmoil over his succession might prompt North Korea to lash out at its neighbor to the South.

In fact, as is normally the case, visitors to the JSA have been allowed to actually step into North Korea, in one of the conference rooms built on the line dividing the two countries.

And, a few miles away, U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Col. Jonathan Withington said South Korean workers continue to commute across the border to the Kaesong Industrial Complex, where about 1,000 of them supervise about 50,000 North Koreans at more than 100 South-owned businesses.

It seemed Thursday as if military personnel on both sides of the DMZ were doing all they could to present an image that – at least on the surface – when it comes to relations and activity there, everything is business as usual.

Withington said the U.S. and South Korean militaries, as they do every day, have been monitoring North Korean troop movements since Kim’s death and so far, “We have not seen any alarming activity.” He made that comment during a media tour, during which 85 journalists were brought to the DMZ for a look at life there in the wake of Kim’s death.

And on the North side of the line, soldiers were observed wearing their normal soft uniform hats. In recent instances when relations were tense between the two countries, and alert levels were raised, North Koreans at the JSA have worn helmets.

About the only sign at the DMZ that Kim had died, or anything unusual had taken place, was that the 600-pound North Korean flag over Peace Village – often referred to as Propaganda Village – was at half-mast.


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