Public tours of Truce Village on Korean border to resume next month

A man poses with South Korean soldiers on the North Korean side of the Joint Security Area during a tour on May 24, 2017. (Aaron Kidd/Stars and Stripes)

SEOUL, South Korea — Public tours of the Truce Village that straddles the tense Korean border will resume next month, officials said Monday, more than a year after civilian access was suspended due to an outbreak. of African swine fever.

The reopening will begin with a trial tour on November 4, followed by the official launch of the program on November 6, the Unification Ministry said in a press release.

The South Korean government said it would start with small-scale visits due to the continued threat of African swine fever and the coronavirus.

“The government will increase the number and scale of visits as the situation improves,” he added.

The Unification Ministry said it only organized tours for South Koreans. Foreigners will have to go through a different process to be organized by the United Nations Command, which oversees the area under the armistice that ended the 1950-53 war.

“UNC is implementing a phased restart and will provide details on expanding tours as they become available…for service members, families and other guests,” said spokesperson Col. Lee Peters, to Stars and Stripes in an email.

Panmunjom, also known as the Joint Security Area, lies at the heart of the 255 km long Demilitarized Zone which divides the peninsula and has long been a popular tourist destination.

This is the only point in the buffer zone where North Korean troops and those of the UN command meet face to face.

Highlights of the tour will include the main building on the South Korean side known as the Freedom House, the blue conference room which was the site of the signing of the armistice, the tree which was planted by Moon and Kim in 2018 and the catwalk where they had a private chat.

South Korea has not informed the North of its intention to resume visits because visitors will be restricted on its side of the border, the ministry said.

President Moon Jae-in’s administration is eager to restart visits as it seeks to transform the region into “a zone of peace”.

Soldiers on both sides have stopped carrying weapons and left some guard posts as part of an agreement between Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their first summit in 2018.

Vows to open up the space for free movement remain unfulfilled, but the government has eased restrictions for South Korean visitors and created an online registration site to allow individuals and families to apply instead of have to go through agencies.

Peters pointed out that the United Nations Command led by the United States does not charge for tours, but travel agencies that take visitors there may charge a fee. “These transactions are not managed or tracked by UNC,” he said.

In the past, foreigners could book tours through agencies that typically charged around $100 for the full Joint Security Area tour, which included visits to a former North Korean infiltration tunnel and a observatory overlooking the communist state.

Panmunjom played a key role in inter-Korean peace negotiations and US-led efforts to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

In addition to the historic 2018 inter-Korean summit, President Donald Trump held an impromptu meeting there with Kim last year when Trump became the first sitting US president to enter the communist state. Twitter: @kimgamel


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