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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with South Korean president Moon Jae-in at the border in Panmunjom at the Demilitarized Zone between their countries last week. AFP/Getty photo.



During a recent media tour, in a typical Panmunjom scene, nine tall South Korean and U.S. soldiers, all wearing mirrored sunglasses, stood rigidly and gazed toward the North, while several helmeted North Korean soldiers marched only several feet away from them.

Soldiers march in Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone

AP photo.

On the southern side of the village, renovation work was underway at the South Korean-controlled Peace House, where Moon and Kim met.

Peace House at in Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone

Pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are beamed onto the Peace House during a closing ceremony at the end of their historic summit in Panmunjom on April 27. AFP/Getty photo.

Several things to know about Panmunjom:


Once an obscure farming village, Panmunjom was where the armistice was signed to end the Korean War. The armistice between the American-led U.N. Command on one side and North Korea and China on the other has yet to be replaced with a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula in a technical state of war.

No civilians live at Panmunjom, and the area is overseen by the U.N. Command and North Korea.

At the center of the oval-shaped village is a cluster of three blue huts used as sites for talks on monitoring the armistice and inter-Korean issues.

The three blue huts in Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone

AP photo.

The huts straddle concrete slabs that form a military demarcation line inside the 2.5-mile-wide DMZ. On one side of that line is North Korea; on the other is the South.

Map showing Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone

Tourists visiting the area can enter one of the huts after soldiers are deployed as a security measure. North Korea’s military lets its own visitors enter the hut as well.

Inside a hut in Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone

AP photo.

In an unusual feature of the DMZ, in that hut, visitors from both sides are allowed to step across the borderline and be technically in the other country’s territory.


The most famous incident at Panmunjom happened in 1976, when ax-wielding North Korean soldiers killed two American officers during a fight over U.S. efforts to trim a poplar tree.

North Korean soldier tries to cross border in Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone

AP photo.

Infuriated, Washington flew nuclear-capable B-52 bombers toward the DMZ to intimidate North Korea. A relative calm was restored after then-North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of Kim Jong Un, expressed regret over the killing.

In 1984, a Soviet tour guide sprinted to the southern part of the village, triggering gunfire between North Korea and U.N. Command soldiers. The shootout killed three North Korean soldiers and one South Korean soldier.

In November 2017, North Korean soldiers fired 40 rounds as one of their colleagues raced toward freedom. The soldier was hit five times before he was found beneath a pile of leaves on the southern side of Panmunjom. He survived and is now in South Korea.

Soldiers march in Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone

AP photo.

Venue for talks

Panmunjom — 32 miles north of Seoul and 91 miles south of Pyongyang — is a popular place for meetings.

During the Korean War, there were a total of 765 rounds of talks at Panmunjom meant to end the fighting. After the war’s end, more than 830 rounds of talks have been held at various Panmunjom facilities among the two Koreas and among the North’s military and the U.N. Command.

Before last week’s summit, the most recent high-profile talks in Panmunjom were in August 2015, when top negotiators from the Koreas met for nearly 40 hours and reached a deal that allowed them to pull back from a military standoff triggered by a land mine explosion that maimed two South Korean soldiers.

Korean leaders shake hands in Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone

In this Aug. 25, 2015 file photo provided by the South Korean Unification Ministry, South Korean presidential security adviser Kim Kwan-jin, right, shakes hands with Hwang Pyong So, North Korea’s top political officer for the Korean People’s Army, after their meeting at the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea. AP photo.

The Peace House, the venue for the summit, is just south of the blue huts. To come to this building, Kim Jong Un crossed the borderline, making him the first North Korean leader to be in the southern part of the peninsula since the war’s end.

Prominent visits

Panmunjom has drawn many high-profile visitors.

In March 2012, Kim Jong Un came down to Panmunjom and met front-line North Korean troops in his first known visit to the area since taking power in late 2011. He gave the troops rifles and machine guns as souvenirs and ordered them to maintain “maximum alertness,” according to state media.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton visited Panmunjom when the North Korean nuclear crisis first flared.

Bill Clinton in Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone

AP photo.

Days before Kim’s Panmunjom visit in 2012, President Barack Obama visited a front-line U.S. military camp just south of the DMZ and told American troops they are protectors of “freedom’s frontier.”

Barack Obama in Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone

AP photo.

In 1998, Chung Ju-yung, the founder of the Hyundai Group conglomerate, accompanied 1,001 cattle into the North via Panmunjom on two occasions as part of a gift that helped his company later launch a tourism project in the North.

More on Panmunjom:


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