Letter from Seoul by Maya Jaggi

Maya Jaggi

Letter from Seoul

 

The truce camp at Panmunjom on the Korean peninsula must rank among the world’s most surreal sights. Helmeted soldiers in forest-green uniforms clench fists with staged aggression as tourists take snaps (army-regulation dark glasses are a mainstay in the souvenir shop). Beyond the sky-blue UN huts, brown-uniformed North Korean troops peer back through binoculars. Despite its absurd theatricality, this is a volatile point of contact in an unfinished war: the two Koreas never signed a peace treaty after the Korean War of 1950–53. A couple of days before I visited in March, the North had fired another ballistic missile off the coast, in defiance of UN bans. 

Over the last 60 years the heavily fortified, 155-mile-long Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) has become a wildlife sanctuary where ginseng farmers get rich and Manchurian cranes peck at paddy fields. But the frontier haunts Korean society. Of the million families it divided, up to a third are still separated. At a

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