What is the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)?

A view of the Korean DMZ.

The Korean Demilitarized Zone

The Korean demilitarized zone is a 160- mile long strip of land of a 2.5 mile width separating the Republic of Korea from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. At the center of the zone is a military demarcation line from which the demilitarized zone extends to 2,200 yards north and south of the demarcation line. The military demarcation line marked the war front during the Korean War. However, outside the zone is a massive concentration of the Korean army both from the north and south making it the world’s heaviest guarded border. The military occupies the regions to suppress any attacks from either side should they occur.


After World War II, failure by the Soviet and US governments to form a united Korean government led to the deepening of differences between the southern and northern Koreans which was worsened by the division of the Korean Peninsula along the 38th parallel. The Republic of Korea (South) was recognized as a legitimate government after the Soviet Union boycotted the UN-supervised elections in 1948. These divisions triggered the Korean War in 1950. After three years of war, the Korean Demilitarized Zone was established on July 27, 1953, through the Korean Armistice Agreement between China, North Korea, and the UN with the aim of ending the hostilities between Korean forces. Though the zone currently exists in relative peace, tensions are still high.

Joint Security Area

The Joint Security Area dubbed Truce Village is a portion of the Korean demilitarized zone located to the western side of the peninsula within Panmunjom village where diplomatic relations between North and South Korea are conducted. The area was previously used by the United Nations Command and North Korea as a site for military negotiations. JSA is a neutral zone within whose boundaries forces of North and South Korea move freely. The JSA is guarded by both northern and southern officials.


The Korean demilitarized zone is a tension-packed area where several incidents and skirmishes have taken place between the South and North Korean forces. The most intense of these conflicts occurred in an attempted presidential assassination at the Blue House in 1968 in the Blue House raid. The attempt was part of the 1966-1969 Korean DMZ Conflict which left hundreds of soldiers from both sides and the US dead. Other conflicts include the Axe murder incident of 1976 and the Matuzok incident of 1984.

Four Tunnels

Between November 1974 and March 1990, South Korea discovered four tunnels dug in a north-south orientation through the DMZ. The North Korean government rejected accusations of creating underground invasion points claiming that the tunnels were for coal mining. However, the tunnels are widely believed to be a North Korean creation for military invasion into South Korea since no coal deposits were found. Tourists are allowed to visit the first three tunnels from the south through guided tours.

Biodiversity in the DMZ

The destruction of the DMZ during the Korean war left it inhabitable leading to the formation of a natural habitat for wildlife such as the Amur leopard, red-crowned crane, Siberian tiger, Asiatic black bear, more than 2000 plant species, 70 different mammals and more than 300 bird species. Due to the relative stability and reduced human interference of this unique temperate habitat, some of the rare species find a home in this region. Due to the unique biodiversity, environmentalists have recommended the demarcation of the area as a biosphere reserve.


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