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Culture

[ZOOM KOREA] The power of Panmunjom as a gateway for peace

Apr 20,2018
On April 27, 1991, the South Korean delegation waves in front of the Peace House in Panmunjom before attending the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference. Behind them stands the Freedom House, which was remodeled in 1998, and behind that is North Korea’s Panmungak. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Left, North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, right, at the 1991 IPU conference. This photo was the first and only to be taken by a South Korean reporter. Above, Park Sang-moon, center, of the Korea Joongang Daily meets with North Korean reporters at Panmunjom. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Left, a road sign on the way to Pyongyang from Kaesong. Middle, North Koreans enjoy beer in Pyongyang. Right, parishioners make donations at Bongsu Church in Pyongyang. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Left, students march in the streets of Pyongyang. Middle, North Korean families walk out of an underground passage. Right, students perform at the Pyongyang’s Children Palace. Far right, the crew on the special train going from Kaesong to Pyongyang. [PARK SANG-MOON]
The 2018 inter-Korean summit will be held on April 27 at the Peace House in Panmunjom. This is the third summit to take place, after the first meeting between former President Kim Dae-jung and former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000 and the second meeting between former President Roh Moo-hyun and former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2007.

While the other two summit meetings took place in Pyongyang, the upcoming meeting will take place in Panmunjom, which lies directly on the border of the two Koreas and stands as the symbol of both peace and division.

Along with the political significance of the summit, the date April 27 is a special day in Korean history. On April 27, 1991, the South Korean diplomatic delegation crossed the demilitarized zone to attend the 85th Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) conference for peace talks.

This was the first time a South Korean delegation crossed the demilitarized zone since the split of the Korean Peninsula in 1953.

Once the South Korean delegation arrived at 9 a.m. at Panmunjom, they briefly expressed their feelings of visiting North Korea in front of the Peace House. They then headed toward Panmungak, a symbolic building that represents North Korea in Panmunjom.

This building is 80 meters (262 feet) north of the South Korean Freedom House, and the North prepared multiple Mercedes-Benz cars for the South Korean delegation. This reporter also crossed the military demarcation line for the joint press conference. The North showed a friendly attitude to the South Korean delegation by not bothering to check their identities when they passed through Panmungak.

After conversing with the North at Panmungak, the South Korean delegation continued for eight kilometers (5 miles) until arriving in Kaesong, a city north of the inter-Korean border. After arriving in Kaesong, they headed to Pyongyang via train, which was prepared by the North. The journey by train took three and a half hours.

Vice Chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland (CPRF) Jeon Geum-cheol personally came to greet the delegation.

During their visit, the South Koreans had a very tight schedule for nine days and had the opportunity to tour Mount Kumgang, a beautiful mountain range north of Gangwon. This event was the first official tour of North Korea since the split of the Korean Peninsula.


On April 29, Kim Il Sung attended the IPU Convention being held at the Mansudae Assembly Hall and gave his opening speech. Kim touched upon the idea of reunification by emphasizing that “the Korean peninsula should be made into a peace zone.” Afterwards, dinner was served at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where the South Korean delegation offered an inter-Korean summit to Kim Il Sung. However, nothing officially happened.

The 2018 inter-Korean summit will be an important meeting not only for peace on the Korean Peninsula but also world peace. Panmunjom, where the summit will take place, is 62 kilometers northwest of Seoul and 215 kilometers south of Pyongyang. This is also known as the Joint Security Area (JSA), where soldiers from both the North and South stand guard.

Before the Korean War (1950-1953) Panmunjom was a remote village known as Neolmun-ri filled with a few chogajib, or traditional Korean thatched houses. However, this all changed when armistice talks were held on October 25, 1951 at a small store in the village. This was when a tiny village became an internationally important location.

In the middle of Panmunjom, there is a blue conference building, which is used by the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission. Additionally, South Korea uses the Freedom House, which functions as a liaison between the South and the North, and the Peace House, which was built for prime ministerial talks between the South and the North.

North Korea uses Panmungak for offices for North Korean guards stationed at the JSA and waiting rooms for representatives who arrive for armistice talks or inter-Korean dialogue, as well as Tongilgak, which is also used for inter-Korean talks.

The Peace House, where the upcoming inter-Korean talks will be held, is a three-floor building. The first floor houses a press room and small meeting room, the second floor has a conference center and a waiting room and the third floor is used as a big meeting room and banquet hall.

Panmunjom will be back in the public spotlight on April 27. This will be the first time a North Korean leader will step foot on South Korean soil after the Korean War.

Although there have been several meetings between the North and the South at Panmunjom, such as the inter-Korean Red Cross talks and inter-Korean military talks, the upcoming April 27 inter-Korean summit meeting carries the biggest historical significance. Hopefully, Panmunjom, which was a symbol of separation for 70 years, will become a symbol for peace between the two Koreas after the summit.

BY PARK SANG-MOON [moonpark@joongang.co.kr]
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