"At this time, we are being monitored by the North Koreans. So, do not point, wave, or gesture in any way towards the North Koreans." That was the stern warning we got when visited the demilitarized zone where tensions still run high 24 hours a day. Our guide was a young soldier from Sacramento, Pfc. Ly Vang.
The DMZ is a stark reminder of three years of war that former South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hong-Koo remembers all too well. "In 1950, the North Korea forces, supported by the Russian and Chinese, invaded south, and that started the Korean War," he said during the Seoul Forum for International Affairs. Now, the DMZ divides his people. "Unfortunately, it's very heavily mined, by both forces, when they retreated to the line."
Vang escorted us into a room where negotiations with the north take place. "The guards out there, they're standing half exposed to make them a harder target, if they're to be fired on," he explained. Half the room is in the south and half is in North Korea. "The guards in here, they're here for your security. They're standing in a modified position of Taekwondo, or what we call 'ROK ready.'
When we got there, there was only one guard posted, but after they saw our cameras, a contingent of them came out and positioned themselves right by the military demarcation line. U.N. Command Media Relations Officer Kim Yong Kyu showed us underground tunnels built by North Korea. The third of four tunnels discovered that were used by the North Koreans to try to infiltrate South Korea has become a tourist attraction. Busloads of tourists go to view North Korea, the propaganda village, and a 600 foot tall flagpole. There's a tower that blocks TV and radio signals.
"The U.S.-Korean relation is a very special relationship for us. 37,000 soldiers lost their lives to protect this country, so we don't forget that. We are always grateful," Ambassador Lee said. That bond is reflected in pictures on Dr. Lee's walls. A former ambassador to the U.S., he has known several American presidents. He reminded us there is no peace treaty. It's only a ceasefire. So, the U.S. has a large contingent of troops there as part of the U.N. command. "Our three neighbors are much bigger than we are, so that explains why Korea has to, or had to, go through all kinds of troubles when you live in a very rough neighborhood," Lee said.
That now includes a nuclear threat from the north where Kim Jong Un has replaced his father Kim Jong Il. Asked if he worries about another invasion by North Korea, Lee told ABC7, "I don't worry because they should have better sense." Lee now heads the Seoul Forum for International Affairs. He said Koreans dream of the day when they will be reunited and the DMZ will be de-mined. "Our hope is that when peace treaty is signed and when we are reunited, we'd like to keep it as a special national park," he said.