Joint Security Area

For the South Korean movie, see Joint Security Area (film).
South Korean soldiers standing guard at the JSA between the blue buildings. View from the south, with North Korea to the rear.
Joint Security Area
Revised Romanization Gongdong Gyeongbi Guyeok
McCune–Reischauer Kongdong Kyŏngbi Kuyŏk

The Joint Security Area (JSA) is the only portion of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where North and South Korean forces stand face-to-face. It is often called the "Truce Village" in both the media[1][2] and various military accounts.[3]

The JSA is used by the two Koreas for diplomatic engagements and, until March 1991, was also the site of military negotiations between North Korea and the United Nations Command (UNC).


Map of the current Joint Security Area (JSA) showing the red Military Demarcation Line (MDL) and the buildings; solid black are occupied by North Korea (KPA) and the white are occupied by South Korea (ROK) and the United Nations (UN)

The Joint Security Area is located at 37°57′21″N 126°40′36″E / 37.95583°N 126.67667°E / 37.95583; 126.67667Coordinates: 37°57′21″N 126°40′36″E / 37.95583°N 126.67667°E / 37.95583; 126.67667 lying within the village of Panmunjom.

The original village of Panmunjom encompassed a larger area than the current inter-military complex of the JSA, and consisted mostly of farms. The JSA itself is actually about 800 meters (½ mile) south of where the village proper used to be, though still within the village's old farming area. It is because of this proximity that there is often ambiguity between the terms JSA or Panmunjom. Panmunjom no longer exists as an inhabited village as it was destroyed during the war, and all that now remains on the site of the village is the building constructed for the signing of the armistice agreement, now the North Korea Peace Museum.

Residing within the North Korean half of the DMZ, the village has not been rebuilt or repopulated, but the name carries on and the name is now used to usually refer to the JSA. The village gained lasting fame as the site where the Korean Armistice Agreement was negotiated. General Nam Il of North Korea and General William Harrison, Jr. of the United Nations Command signed the armistice agreement at 10:00 am on July 27, 1953, in a hastily constructed pavilion at Panmunjom.

General Mark W. Clark, Commander-in-Chief, UNC, later countersigned the document in a separate ceremony at Munsan, approximately 18 kilometers (11 mi) south of the DMZ; and Marshal Kim Il Sung, Korean People's Army (KPA) Supreme Commander, along with Peng Teh-huai, Commander, Chinese People's Volunteer Army (CPV), countersigned it at Kaesong, approximately 10 kilometers (6 mi) to the north in another separate ceremony.

The JSA has been the site of numerous major events since its establishment in 1953, the first of which was the repatriation of prisoners of war (POWs) after the cessation of hostilities, across the Bridge of No Return.


The Joint Security Area currently has around 100,000 tourists visit each year through several tourism companies[4][5] and the USO[6] (through the various U.S. military commands in Korea). Before being allowed to enter the DMZ, if visiting from the South, tourists are given a briefing during which they must sign a document which states, in part, "The visit to the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom will entail entry into a hostile area and possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action."[7][8][9]


Among the provisions of the Korean Armistice Agreement signed July 27, 1953, to bring a cease-fire in the Korean War, was establishment of the Military Armistice Commission (MAC), an agency to supervise implementation of the truce terms. Meetings of MAC representatives from the United Nations Command (UNC) and the Korean People's Army/Chinese People's Volunteers (KPA/CPV) were held at the Joint Security Area, an 800-meter (2600 ft) wide enclave, roughly circular in shape, bisected by the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) separating South and North Korea, and created as a neutral area, where there was free movement of both sides anywhere within the JSA boundaries.

Military Police of both sides provide security for the JSA with guard forces of no more than 35 security personnel on duty at any given time. The administrative facilities for both guard forces are located within the JSA.[10]


While the boundary has remained the same over the years, the buildings themselves have changed. Some have been removed, including all of the KPA checkpoints on the southern half of the JSA. New buildings have been constructed, whilst some existing buildings have been expanded or simply renovated. The only boundary change of the Joint Security Area was the enforcement of the dividing line within the JSA after the murders of two American officers in 1976. Prior to this, the entire area was neutral, where members of either side possessed the freedom of movement within the JSA.

Since the enforcement of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) within the JSA, several UNC checkpoint buildings have also been rebuilt and/or renamed as well. Examples of this are what was called Observation Post (OP) No. 5 on the hill overlooking the Bridge of No Return, is now Checkpoint (CP) #3,[11] while what used to be called CP#3 (and sometimes called "The Loneliest Outpost in the World"[12][13]) was the UNC checkpoint at the southern end of the Bridge of No Return. After the enforcement of the MDL however, the North Koreans no longer had a road leading into the JSA and within 72 hours built what has now become known as the "72-Hour Bridge" or "Bridge of 72 Hours".

United Nations Command staffing

Two KPA soldiers standing guard inside a JSA conference room, in front of the door leading to the South Korean side of the JSA. View from north to south.

The United Nations Command Security Battalion—Joint Security Area was constituted on May 5, 1952, as Army Unit 8020, United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission Support Group (Provisional). Originally authorized five officers and ten enlisted soldiers, the unit grew to over 1,400 officers and men supporting almost 32,000 soldiers, civilians, and diplomats involved in negotiating and then enforcing the Armistice Agreement. By the end of February 1954 the scope of work declined and the number of soldiers assigned to the unit declined as well.

For the next 50 years, the unit underwent several organizational and name changes, although the original mission to secure the Joint Security Area remains the same today as it was in 1952. On June 11, 1979, the name was changed from US Army Support Group (Joint Security Area) to United Nations Command Support Group—Joint Security Area, and further changed to United Nations Command Security Force—Joint Security Area on December 23, 1985. On October 15, 1994, UNC Commander directed that the unit be known by its present designation, the United Nations Command Security Battalion—Joint Security Area.

A Republic of Korea soldier of the United Nations Command Security Battalion stands guard inside a JSA conference room, in front of the door leading to the North Korean side of the JSA. View from south to north.

Originally a purely U.S. Army organization, the unit also included ROK soldiers (KATUSAs). In addition, ROK Army officers served as liaison officers. In the mid-1970s the JSA consisted of the JSF company with three platoons of one U.S. and one ROKA officer, and thirty enlisted men, supported by a battalion staff. The three platoons were led by the U.S. officer with the ROK officer as the executive officer, and U.S. Army platoon sergeants. The platoons consisted of three squads, with equal numbers of U.S. and KATUSA soldiers.

Sometime after 1979, another (fourth) platoon was added to the JSF to allow time for training during platoon work rotations. In July 1987 the four platoons of the Joint Security Force (JSF) company were reorganized to mix KATUSA and US soldiers at all levels. At the platoon level, two platoons were led by U.S. Army lieutenants and ROKA platoon sergeants, and two were led by ROKA lieutenants and US Army platoon sergeants. In November 1987 the unit received a ROK Army major as its first deputy commander.

On April 25, 1992, the JSF company became a KATUSA-pure formation. Captain Yin Sung-hwan became the first ROK commander assisted by a U.S. Army lieutenant as his executive officer. The number of U.S. Army personnel assigned to the unit fell below 200 for the first time since 1952. American forces assigned to the JSA assumed mainly administrative and support roles.

On October 31, 2004, a ROK Army battalion assumed sole responsibility for the Joint Security Area.[14] This modified light infantry battalion consists of a battalion headquarters, a headquarters company, two security companies, and a civil affairs company. The number of U.S. personnel assigned decreased further, reflecting the UNC Commander's desire to minimize the USFK presence near the Korean Demilitarized Zone. The commander of the ROKA JSA Battalion serves as the UNCSB-JSA Deputy Commander. The UNCSB-JSA Commander's principal responsibility now lies in his operational control of selected ROKA formations during both Armistice and wartime periods.

Both sides place guards between the blue meeting houses, where the demarcation line is marked by blocks of concrete. South Korean guards in this area are armed with pistols and they stand in a modified taekwondo stance with stolid facial expressions, clenched fists and sunglasses, which is meant to intimidate the North Korean guards. The South Korean guards must be at least 170 cm (5'6") tall,[15][16] and have a black belt in taekwondo or judo.

History and major events


During one of the initial negotiations of the armistice, agents of the KPA/CPV side went into the truce tents one night and sawed down the chair legs of the UNC delegation. The next day, when the UNC delegates arrived, they were forced to sit lower than their KPA/CPV counterparts and lost face, so they quickly left the meeting. At a later meeting, the UNC delegation brought a flag into the truce tent and set it up on the meeting table. The KPA/CPV delegation left after losing face, but showed up at the next meeting with a flag that was larger than the UNC flag. At the following meeting, the UNC delegation brought in a slightly larger flag. This kept up until a special meeting was called just to discuss the size of the flags, as they had grown too large to fit within the tents. The size of the flags within the meeting building have stayed about the same since then, with only minor changes. The KPA flag is wider than the UNC flag, but the UNC flag is longer. The KPA flag has thicker fringe around the edges of the flag, but the UNC's trim is longer. The truck at the top of the KPA flagpole is taller than the UNC truck, but the UNC's is wider. The KPA flag has a three tiered base while the UNC flag only has two tiers, but each of the tiers on the UNC base is taller than any of the tiers on the KPA flag.[17][18][19]

Being at the center of one of the world's most tense military and political fault lines, the Joint Security Area has been the site of numerous interactions between North and South, including over 750 overt acts of violence. The UNC has documented most of the violent incidents with reports and photographs, which have been reported in the course of MAC meetings. Countless fistfights, shouting matches, exchanges of rude gestures, and other provocations have occurred since 1953.[20] There have also been several prisoner exchanges and other interactions.


Buildings as they appeared in 1956. View from the south.
This operation was a test case for prisoner repatriation, one of the four main issues of contention during two years of negotiation. 605 sick, wounded, and/or injured UNC prisoners were exchanged for 6,030 sick or injured Communist prisoners.[21][22]
Based on the success of the repatriations undertaken earlier, a general exchange of prisoners began in late April. During Operation Big Switch, prisoners were brought to Panmunjom, on the banks of the Sachong River. Each prisoner was then asked if he wished to cross the river and return to his countrymen or remain with his captors. Once the choice was made there was no turning back—hence the name Bridge of No Return. During this time 13,444 UNC prisoners returned to UNC countries, and 89,493 KPA and CPV prisoners returned to their Communist countries. In June, 1953, ROK president Syngman Rhee released a further 25,000 KPA soldiers held in ROKA camps (mostly southerners impressed into service for the north) into South Korea in an attempt to wreck the armistice negotiations.[23][24][25]
The Armistice Agreement provided that a nonbelligerent nation would provide security forces to hold any prisoner of war who refused repatriation. India provided 6,413 soldiers for this purpose. After landing at the port of Inchon, the UNCMAC Support Group (Provisional) moved all personnel to the Demilitarized Zone by helicopter in a single day without incident.
Approximately 23,000 KPA and CPV soldiers held in UNC prisoner of war camps refused to return to Communist control. Twenty-two UNC soldiers (21 Americans, one Briton) also refused repatriation. Under the provisions of the Armistice, these soldiers were held for a further six months and interviewed by neutral observers to ensure they had not been coerced into refusing repatriation. Most KPA expatriates remained in South Korea, while the overwhelming majority of CPV expatriates traveled to Taiwan to join the Nationalists.
During this operation the UNCMACSG(P) oversaw the repatriation of displaced persons, expellees, and refugees from North Korea to South Korea across the Military Demarcation Line at Panmunjom.


In December 1969 an unarmed OH-23 observation helicopter strayed over DPRK airspace and was forced to land in North Korea. The crew was held for a short time, then returned to UNC control.


DPRK soldiers standing guard at the JSA between the blue buildings. View from the north.
A Korean Air Lines aircraft was hijacked by a North Korean agent on December 11, 1969 and forced to divert to Sondǒk Airfield in Wonsan, North Korea. Aside from the hijacker, the plane carried 46 passengers and four crew members. 39 passengers were repatriated through Panmunjom on Valentine's Day, 1970. The remaining passengers and all crew members were held by North Korea and to date have not been permitted to return. See Korean Air Lines YS-11 hijacking.[29][30][31]
The monument marking the site of the Axe Murder Incident in the Joint Security Area on the border of North and South Korea. (Photo 2012)
In response to the killing of Capt. Bonifas and Lt. Barrett by the KPA on August 18, the UNC Commander, General Richard G. Stilwell ordered a massive show of force to accompany the felling of the poplar tree inside the JSA. The tree had been the focal point of the murders.



In March 1991, the UNC commander appointed a South Korean General as chief representative. As North Korea claims that only signatories to the Armistice Agreement, of which South Korea is not a part, can be representatives, they refuse to attend any more MAC meetings.[36]
In January 1994 two KPA soldiers were swept into the East China Sea. They were rescued by elements of the ROK Navy. Neither soldier wished to defect, so they were returned to communist control through Panmunjom.
In December 1994 an unarmed OH-58 Kiowa helicopter from the US Army crossed the MDL while undertaking a low-altitude flight over hilly, wooded terrain in South Korea.[37] KPA air defense forces shot the aircraft down[38] as it was returning to South Korean-controlled territory. Co-pilot David M. Hilemon was killed but pilot Bobby Hall was released 13 days later after signing an apology for "accidentally straying" into North Korean airspace.


Major landmarks
Main North Korean building, Panmungak, from Freedom House Pagoda in 1976 
A view of Panmungak, from Freedom House Pagoda in 2009 
The border between the North (left) and South (right), marked by a concrete slab between the conference buildings 
Freedom House and meeting row, from Freedom House Pagoda in 1976 
The new Freedom House as viewed from Panmungak in 2005 

See also

Villages within the DMZ:


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