DPR-Korea New Zealand

Promoting diplomatic and cultural relations between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and New Zealand.

Monitoring the Armistice

New Zealand supports stability on the Korean peninsula by contributing four personnel to the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC); one Defence Attaché based in Seoul and three officers to monitor compliance of the Armistice Agreement at the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), a 241km long, 4km wide buffer zone separating the North and South.While the DMZ is mostly calm, it has seen violations, such as weapons discharges and incidents which have sometimes resulted in loss of life. The United Nations Command mandate is to defend the Republic of Korea (ROK) from aggression from North Korea and re-establish international peace and security.

The United Nations’ mission in Korea differs from other ‘blue hat’ (UN) missions as it is commanded by the United States, rather than the UN Security Council. The Commander of the UNC Command in Korea reports to the US Government who reports to the Security Council or the UN General Assembly.

The Joint Security Area (JSA) within the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

Navy Reservist Paul Eady recently returned to New Zealand after six months monitoring the military armistice in Korea with UNCMAC. As a Regular Force marine engineer Lieutenant Eady hadn’t posted overseas, so was delighted when he was asked to deploy to the Korean Peninsula while a Reservist.

After two weeks pre-deployment training, which included land mine awareness; chemical, biological and radiological nuclear training, and language lessons, Paul arrived in Panmunjom. Panmunjom straddles North and South Korea and is known as the “truce village” as it is near the site of the signing of the1953 Armistice. One thing that soon struck LT Eady about the DMZ was the sense of general disquiet.

“The UNCMAC Secretary says monitoring this armistice feels a bit like watching a National Geographic documentary; you’ve got lions lying around a watering hole and hyenas on the other side,” he says, “And it’s true. Everything is peaceful but there is a tension nevertheless. I didn’t lose sleep over it, but I was certainly conscious that something could happen at any time, and there was always potential for an incident.”

Other aspects of deploying to the DMZ took some getting used to. “It’s not like living in Seoul; you can’t do what you like. Movement can be restricted. New Zealand UNCMAC personnel are not allowed to drive in Korea, so we’re quite dependant on others. The bridge across the Imjin River (to South Korea) closes at a certain time and if you’re not back you have to stay overnight.”

“We don’t observe the border, we monitor compliance to the Armistice Agreement. Observing the Military Demarcation Line, and watching for people crossing that line, is done by the Korean soldiers on both sides.”

– LT Paul Eady, Navy Reservist

Nations, including New Zealand, which support the United Nations mission in the Republic of Korea (South)
Nations, including New Zealand, which support the United States-led UN mission in the Republic of Korea (South)

As UNCMAC’s ‘eyes and ears’ on the ground, LT Eady had to be familiar with the Armistice Agreement, the subsequent agreements, and be able to interpret rules and regulations.

“Precedents have been set but Kiwis and others add value by bringing fresh perspectives. I also observed, monitored, and reported on the DMZ. Now I think of it, I was a bit like a School Prefect!” he says.

LT Eady stresses that UNCMAC personnel are monitoring compliance to a ceasefire, not a peace agreement. “We don’t observe the border, we monitor compliance to the Armistice Agreement. Observing the Military Demarcation Line, and watching for people crossing that line, is done by the Korean soldiers on both sides,” he notes.

Mr Karim Dickie, of DPR-Korea New Zealand, at the Joint Security Area (JSA), North-side, within the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
Mr Karim Dickie, of DPR-Korea New Zealand, pictured in April 2011 at the Joint Security Area (JSA) within the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

“Monitoring compliance requires us to know what’s happening in our Area of Operations and if activities breach rules agreed between the two sides. Activities might be troop and weapon movements, building defensive positions or misidentification of personnel.”

There was also a Duty Officer aspect to LT Eady’s position: “I was also there, so that if at 0200 hrs the North Koreans wanted to send a note to the South asking for a meeting, someone was present to facilitate that.”

The United Nations’ mission in Korea differs from other ‘blue hat’ (UN) missions as it is commanded by the United States, rather than the UN Security Council. The Commander of the UNC Command in Korea reports to the US Government who reports to the Security Council or the UN General Assembly.

Reflecting on the situation facing Korea today, LT Eady concludes, “Peace wasn’t going to be negotiated overnight but I don’t think anyone dreamed it would be 57 years and counting. It may be hard to combine the two different Koreas now. The older generation has an emotional desire to see reunification but the younger generation sees the practical difficulties. It is a complicated issue.”

References:

One Force, Issue 5, October 2010, New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF).
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