On April 27, Panmunjeom on the inter-Korean border will be the stage for the meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the first inter-Korean summit in 11 years.
Situated in the heavily fortified 250-kilometer-long Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas, the Joint Security Area of Panmunjeom is where the Korean War armistice was signed in 1953 and numerous cross-border talks have since been held.
The Peace House, a three-story building where the inter-Korean summit will be held on Friday, is located on the South Korean side of Panmunjeom, about 50 kilometers north of Seoul. The previous two inter-Korean summits were held in Pyongyang in 2000 and 2007.
Moon and Kim are expected to begin their historic talks at 10 a.m. in a conference room on the second floor of the Peace House, newly renovated for the summit. Moon and Kim are expected to walk up separate staircases on either side of the building to proceed to the meeting room. The Peace House also has a press room on the first floor and a banquet hall on the third floor where the leaders are expected to hold dinner.
A South Korean soldier stands outside of the Peace House, the venue for the planned summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on April 27. (AP-Yonhap)
At the meeting, the two leaders are expected to discuss the North’s denuclearization and whether to declare an official end to the war and sign a peace treaty. The most pressing task for Moon at Friday’s summit would be to create momentum for Kim and US President Donald Trump to strike a deal on the North’s denuclearization in their meeting set to be held by early June.
The two Koreas are still working out details such as a schedule for events on the day, how the leaders will enter the building, with attention on whether Kim will walk across the Military Demarcation Line onto the South Korean side. The presidential office is set to release more information on Thursday.
South Korean officials rehearsed for the summit on Tuesday, with officials from both Koreas set to do so together on Wednesday.
Just past the Freedom House, a four-story building near the Peace House, is a cluster of three blue meeting huts controlled by the United Nations Command straddling the Military Demarcation Line. On each side of the meeting huts, there are silver huts used and controlled by North Korea.
The stone-faced soldiers from both Koreas stand guard outside the meeting huts from both sides of the border.
Soldiers from the two Koreas used to jointly patrol the area until the infamous “axe” incident in 1976 in which North Korean soldiers wielded an axe and killed two US Army soldiers who were cutting down a tree that blocked the UN forces’ view.
The DMZ, which was established as a result of an armistice signed by North Korea, China and the US-led UN command, has seen conflicts and violence over the past decades.
In November, North Korean soldier Oh Chong-song, 25, raced across the MDL to defect to the South, prompting his comrades to open fire at him. He collapsed near the Peace House, was taken to a hospital with life-threatening injuries and now lives in Seoul. It was the latest reminder that the two Koreas are still technically at war.
However, it has also been a symbol of peace-making efforts and cross-border exchanges, such as the inter-Korean Red Cross talks and inter-Korean military talks.
In 1991, the South Korean delegation crossed the border to attend the 85th Inter-Parliamentary Union conference for peace talks, which marked the first time since the division of the two Koreas.
Meanwhile, there are some 200 residents living at the Tae Sung Dong village on the South Korean side of the DMZ. They farm the state-owned land there and are exempt from taxes and military duty. It is relatively easy for residents to move out of the village, but only those who marry a man registered in the village can move into it. The residents are all subject to a curfew between midnight and 5 a.m.
By Ock Hyun-ju (email@example.com