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Waterways Engineers Pinpointing Tunnels in Korea

May 28, 1987

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) _ Officials in South Korea fear North Korea may be digging tunnels under the demilitarized zone, and engineers here are working on equipment that may help pinpoint the efforts, officials at an experimental station say.

Waterways Experiment Station engineers hope to have tunnel detection equipment ready for use by September, which would give experts who fear possible sabotage a year to locate tunnels before the 1988 Summer Olympics open in Seoul, South Korea.

″We’ve got our heart and teeth in this thing,″ Robert Ballard Jr., a research geophysicist at the experiment station’s Vicksburg headquarters, said Wednesday. ″This is one of the more interesting projects we’ve been on.″

The station is a branch of the Army Corps of Engineers that concentrates on experiments related to water projects and river flow, but often takes on other projects.

Three tunnels, one of them large enough to accomodate a jeep, were discovered between 1974 and 1978, Ballard said. Efforts to find more tunnels have been stepped up with the approach of the Olympics.

North and South Korea have had an uneasy peace since the Korean War ended in 1953. Both sides are on constant alert along the demilitarized zone, a 155- mile-long buffer that splits the Korean penninsula.

South Korean officials fear that the North may try to disrupt the Olympics. A controversy arose over a dam North Korea is building on a river that flows south and passes through Seoul. The South fears the North will breach the dam when the Olympics begin in an effort to flood the city, and are building flood control dams.

Wayne Stroupe, the station’s public affairs officer, said the tunnels may not be related to the Olympics.

″We don’t know why the North Koreans are digging them. It could be for minor infiltration or for an invasion, but there’s no reason for anyone to panic,″ Stroupe said.

″Some aspects, such as where suspected tunnels are located and specifically how many we think there are, are still classified,″ Stroupe said.

Based on information from intelligence sources, Ballard said 10 to 30 tunnels are being built.

″We believe most of the tunnels are dormant,″ Ballard said. ″We do know there is activity going on, but it is down markedly in just the past three months.″

Efforts to find the tunnels may be deterring the North Koreans, he said. No tunnels have been found since 1978, but Ballard said he expects the experiment station’s equipment to detect a few more.

The North Koreans deny they dug the tunnels discovered in the 1970s, and say the South Koreans actually did it.

The station developed a ″passive tunnel detection system that’s still in the shakedown stage to work any bugs out,″ Ballard said.

The system is set up in a truck. Ultrasensitive seismic microphones, or ″geophones,″ are spread out to cover an area of up to 2 square kilometers.

When the equipment is ready, a 30-soldier U.S. Army ″tunnel neutralization team″ will hunt for tunnels. Engineers from the Waterways Experiment Station will be available should problems arise, Ballard said.

The Army paid the station $600,000 to research, build and deploy a ″seismic listening system″ to detect tunneling activity. The experiment station became involved in the effort in 1985.

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