What’s up with N. Korea installing a wall along the border with the South?

Posted on : 2024-06-17 16:18 KST Modified on : 2024-06-17 17:38 KST
Contrary to what many may expect, there is no physical border wall along the MDL itself besides a series of 1,292 sign posts
North and South Korean guard posts sit across the Imjin River from one another along the inter-Korean border, as seen from Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on June 10, 2024. (Yonhap)
North and South Korean guard posts sit across the Imjin River from one another along the inter-Korean border, as seen from Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on June 10, 2024. (Yonhap)


North Korea appears to be constructing a wall along its side of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), the de facto inter-Korean border. 

“Our surveillance assets have captured numerous North Korea units who appear to be constructing a border wall along various spots on the MDL, ranging from the western to the eastern front,” said a South Korean military official on Friday.

Regarding the motives behind these developments, the official simply replied that “additional analyses are required” to make further conclusions. 

Military authorities are reportedly considering the possibility that Pyongyang is bolstering security at key spots along the border or preparing to construct a 248 km border wall. 

Since renouncing former commitments to unification or a unified Korean people and declaring inter-Korean relations as those between “two states hostile to each other,” North Korea has actively cut off dialogue channels with the South. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Pyongyang is planning on constructing a massive border wall reminiscent of the Berlin Wall, a symbol of Cold War division. 

There is currently no barbed wire or border wall along the MDL itself. The Armistice Agreement dictates an imaginary border that stretches from the Imjin River to the eastern coast. This border is marked by 1,292 sign posts that have been erected along the 248 km border that is known as the MDL.

“Right now, it’s too early to judge whether the installations that North Korea is building are cautionary reinforcements of key positions along the border or the beginning of a wall that spans the entire MDL,” said the aforementioned military official. 

“It will take a few years to build a border wall that spans the entire MDL,” the official added. 

“We are meticulously following and surveilling the North Korean military’s activity, maintaining a firm military readiness posture, and coordinating with the UN Command, which has jurisdiction over the DMZ.” 

On June 9, dozens of North Korean soldiers briefly crossed the MDL. They returned to the North Korean side after South Korean soldiers fired warning shots. It is probable that the brief crossing was related to the recent border installations. The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a  statement following the incident, declaring that the North Korean soldiers’ crossing was likely a mistake. The soldiers were said to have been carrying shovels and pickaxes when they crossed over.

In the late 1970s, South Korea fortified its northern border by installing anti-tank obstacles along the western, central and central sections of the Southern Limit Line, which lies 2 km south of the MDL. These points are fortified with concrete walls that stand 5 to 6 meters tall and around 30 km long. North Korea denounced these installations in the 1990s as “symbols of division,” and called for their removal. North Korea has installed its own anti-tank obstacles and walls in strategic locations along the eastern and western front.

By Kwon Hyuk-chul, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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