select languages
sns RSS mobile twitter
latestnewslatestnews RSS
Home > Features
(Yonhap Feature) Unopened N. Korean mail box in DMZ reminder of uneasy truce

By Kim Eun-jung

PANMUNJOM, Korea, July 18 (Yonhap) -- Every Tuesday morning an international armistice monitoring group on the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) holds a meeting and places its minutes into a mailbox marked "KPA" (Korean People's Army) for North Korean officials to read.

Five Swedish and five Swiss members of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) monitor troops levels and whether the Armistice Agreement that ended 1950-53 Korean War is being upheld in South Korea.

Their efforts to communicate with North Korea, however, don't pay off as no one ever picks up the documents from the KPA mailbox.

"In the last 18 years, North Koreans have not checked this mailbox," Swiss Army Maj. Gen. Urs Gerber told a Yonhap News reporter during a recent visit to the NNSC conference room close to the Joint Security Area. "We are considered as a ghost organization by North Korea."

The mailbox of the Korean People's Army inside of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission conference room in the Demilitarized Zone. (Yonhap)

Pyongyang has ignored the existence of the NNSC since 1995, but those two delegations continue to offer reports to North Korea, which are ignored as part of efforts to maintain its legacy.

Old papers are removed every three or four months when the small wooden box becomes full, Gerber said, blocking a door leading to the North preventing anybody from opening it out of curiosity.

The drama at the last Cold War frontier illustrates the uneasy nature of the truce that left the Korean Peninsula divided along the 38th parallel after the war ended six decades ago.

When the agreement was signed on July 27, 1953, United Nations Command (UNC) selected Switzerland and Sweden on behalf of South Korean and the U.S., while North Korea and China nominated Czechoslovakia and Poland to investigate implementation of the pact for the communist North.

Initially, a significant number of NNSC personnel monitored equipment and troop movements in the two Koreas. While about 150 Swiss military monitors came to Korea in the months following the armistice, the number has since been greatly reduced.

Their relevance has also been reduced as the commission no longer operates in the northern side of the DMZ.

When Czechoslovakia was split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, North Korea kicked it out along with Poland that joined NATO, apparently believing that they were no longer friendly to the communist country. Now, Poland sends representatives to a couple of commission meetings through South Korea each year.

When a two-star South Korean general was appointed as the representative of the U.N. Military Armistice Commission (MAC) in 1995, the North said the armistice was no longer valid and severed the crucial communications channel with the MAC and NNSC. Then it set up the KPA's mission in the truce village.

Maj. Gen. Urs Gerber (L), the Swiss delegation of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, and Rear. Adm. Anders Grenstad (R), the Swedish delegation, in front of the Joint Security Area inside the Demilitarized Zone. (Yonhap)

"North Koreans didn't accept (the appointment). They said it is the most severe armistice violation so far," Gerber said.

Since then, Pyongyang has called for the dissolution of the UNC, the core body that maintains the armistice, and threatened to nullify the ceasefire. Most recently in March, Pyongyang said it would scrap the armistice and stop its Panmunjom mission activities.

Despite the North's attempt to undermine the commission's role, the two delegations continue to monitor implementation of the Armistice Agreement, writing reports on annual South Korea-U.S. military drills. About 28,500 American troops are stationed in the nation.

While experts see that the NNSC no longer plays a critical role on the Korean Peninsula, Gerber says the panel needs to be kept in place to demonstrate international community that the truce is still in force.

"It's very often symbolic but it gives clear indication into the world as long as the NNSC is here, that's a strong signal that the armistice is still in force and valid," Gerber said.

The Swiss delegation said his country will continue to carry out its duty as long as it's required to do so, urging the North to make efforts to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula.

"North Koreans can attend the meeting. The door is always open," he said. "We would like to have peace, real peace on the Korean Peninsula."