By Kim Young Deok and Lee Jihae
Photos = Kim Young Deok
Gangwon-do | April 27, 2019
“Welcome to DMZ Peace Trail.”
So read the sign on the electronic signboard of the Jejin checkpoint in Goseong-gun County, Gangwon-do Province on April 27 as it greeted visitors to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the border separating the two Koreas. Domestic and foreign journalists were among those who gathered at the checkpoint.
To mark the first anniversary of the inter-Korean summit held in Panmunjom last year, the government opened the so-called DMZ Peace Trail to the public for the first time since 1954. This measure is part of the implementation of the inter-Korean agreement signed on Sept. 19 last year to ease military tension between both sides.
At 10 a.m., the Unification Observatory of Goseong-gun was teeming with visitors as it was opened to the public for the first time in 65 years. The trail course started from this observatory.
The trail had two courses in the DMZ. Course A was a 2.7 km-long trail along the barbed wire fence on the eastern coast, while Course B was a car-based trail 7.9 km long.
The gates to the Course A trail opened at 10:30 a.m., and the tour guide led some 20 visitors along steep stairs that led to the fortified coastal road. The trail was two to three meters wide, and the sunny spring weather and tranquil sound of the waves brought to mind scenes at a quiet sandy beach.
A military officer said the once-deteriorating trail was refurbished to make it a walkable path.
On the left side of the trail were a signpost saying entrance was prohibited and an embankment 30 cm high to prevent landmines from being washed away. After walking for about 30 minutes, the tour guide stopped the visitors to say they had reached the southern boundary line, or 2 km south of the Military Demarcation Line.
Walking past this line, which was marked by a stone sign, would lead to the side of the DMZ under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Command’s Military Armistice Commission.
The group came upon an exploded excavator that had been used to establish telephone poles before its destruction in 2007 by an anti-tank landmine. The visitors looked solemn as they looked at it.
Park Seo Hee, a 20-something office worker, said she joined the tour to participate in the reconciliatory atmosphere between the two Koreas. “It’ll take a lot more time to eliminate all the landmines in the surrounding areas, but I think the opening of certain areas of the DMZ indicates that the schism between the two Koreas is fading,” she said.
Around noon, the group walked out of the coastal road and arrived at Geumgang Gate, the northernmost entry point on the front line. The tour guide stood in front of the pole planted on April 26 by President Moon Jae-in; the pole read “The path to peace begins now.”
The tour guide expressed hope that the DMZ will contribute to the mutual growth of both Koreas.
The last leg of the tour was at Geumgangsan Mountain Unification Observatory, located 1.6 km from Geumgang Gate and 1.2 km from the Military Demarcation Line. The visitors got on the bus to get there instead of walking due to the steep road. From the observatory, Chaeha Peak of Geumgangsan Mountain in the north and Haegeumgang River were clearly visible.
The observatory was temporarily opened to the public during last year’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. The wind was cold there last year during the event, but the observatory this time was warm and filled with a peaceful atmosphere.
Byun Joo Young, a 50-something translator, said she grew interested in the DMZ as her job required her to translate materials related to the zone. “Walking on this peace trail has made me consider reunification, inter-Korean issues, reconciliation and more. I hope that everyone can soon live without fear of inter-Korean tension,” she said.
The tour finally ended at 1:20 p.m. back at the Unification Observatory in Goseong-gun, where the trail had begun, and the visitors left through the Jejin checkpoint. The two and half hours of seeing North Korea apparently made the visitors feel that the chasm between the two Koreas was narrowing.
The DMZ Peace Trail tour is offered twice a day except Mondays. Course A can accommodate up to 20 people and Course B 80.
Similar tour courses are slated to open in Cheorwon-gun County and Paju, Gangwon-do Province. The trail in Cheorwon-gun will run from Baekmagoji Battle Monument to Hwasalmeorigoji, while the one in Paju will run from Imjingak to where a guard post once stood.