The Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ) is the region of the Korean Peninsula that divides North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) and South Korea (Republic of Korea). It follows a latitude of 38°N (38th parallel) and divides the peninsula into roughly equal halves. The DMZ stretches 160 miles across the peninsula from the entrance of the Han River to the town of Kosong on the east coast of North Korea. After the Second World War, the respective forces from North and South Korea were pushed 1.2 miles along each side of the demarcation line. For the rest of the world, the DMZ is a reminder of the Korean War, while the two Korean countries perceive it as more than just a boundary.
The 38th parallel north was the initial boundary between the administration areas of the United States and the Soviet Union during the Second World War. In 1948, when the Democratic Republic of North Korea and the Republic of South Korea were created, the line became the boundary between the two countries. Both North Korea and South Korea became independent states, but remained dependent on their specific sponsors for support from 1948 until 1950, when the Korean War broke out. Over 3 million people lost their lives during the Korean War, and the Korean Peninsula was divided along conceptual lines. On July 27, 1953, the Armistice Agreement enflamed by the United Nations was signed, restoring peace in the area. Each side agreed to push their armies 2,200 yards from the front line, creating a buffer zone 2.5 miles wide which became known as the Korean demilitarized zone.
On the west coast of the Korean DMZ lies the Joint Security Area, where the Armistice Agreement was signed, and is the place where the two countries schedule meetings and negotiations. Buildings named Conference Row were constructed in the area as the only place where North and South Koreans meet face to face peacefully. Peace villages were also constructed on both sides of the DMZ to create harmonious existence between the two countries. It is believed that residents of these peace villages are exempt from paying taxes and serving in the military, and are allowed to participate in South Korea’s elections. The DMZ hosts two of the tallest flagpoles in the world. South Korea’s flagpole is 323 ft tall, while North Korea's is 525 ft tall.
The DMZ Today
The areas north and south of the demilitarized zone are heavily fortified, as both North and South Korea maintain large contingents of troops. Over the years, minor skirmishes have occurred, but no major conflicts. With no human habitation, the land lies untouched, making it one of the most virgin and underdeveloped places in Asia. The zone encompasses various ecosystems including woodlands, estuaries, and wetlands frequented by different bird species, including the rare white-naped and red-crowned cranes. It is also home to a dozen fish species, lynxes, Asiatic black bears, and the rare Siberian tiger. Additional surveys conducted in the region also show that there could be more than one million landmines and other unexploded ordnances, like coal.