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Soldiers in Koreas’ DMZ Use Intimidation

April 3, 2003

PANMUNJOM, Korea (AP) _ A North Korean soldier reaches for his sidearm as if to pull it from its holster, but doesn’t. He then flicks a finger across his neck in a throat-slashing gesture at South Korean soldiers.

Such attempts to intimidate are regular these days for communist troops who face off against South Korean and a small number of U.S. soldiers in the demilitarized zone that divides the Korean Peninsula, according to U.S. Army Lt. Col. Matthew Margotta.

South Korean troops also posture. Just feet from the North’s soldiers in Panmunjom, a military village that straddles the border, the South’s soldiers stand in taekwondo poses, ready to fight _ legs apart, arms bent and fists clenched.

They wear aviator sunglasses with reflective lenses to ``try to intimidate the North Koreans,″ said U.S. Specialist Jonathan Butts.

Though such antagonistic behavior has not been uncommon as relations have ebbed and spiked on the Korean Peninsula ever since the 1950-53 Korean War, it is indicative of current tension.

Washington has accused the North of having a secret nuclear weapons program, in violation of a 1994 pact. Pyongyang says its nuclear development is for peaceful purposes and has said it fears Washington will invade the communist state once its done fighting in Iraq.

President Bush has said he wants to resolve the crisis peacefully, but has not ruled out a military solution.

Earlier this week, the United States said it was keeping stealth fighter jets in South Korea that arrived last month for a training exercise. The radar-evading F-117s are capable of taking out the North’s Yongbyon nuclear plant _ an attack North Korea has accused Washington of plotting.

The Korean border is the world’s most heavily fortified, with almost 2 million troops deployed on the peninsula, including 37,000 American troops stationed in South Korea.

Last week, North Korea suspended the sole regular contact with the U.S.-led United Nations Command that monitors the Korean War armistice. Those weekly meetings in Panmunjom, though usually quick and business like, were an important diplomatic portal used to keep the peace between the two sides which technically are still at war.

In better days _ such as in 2000 when the leaders of North and South Korea held a summit in Pyongyang _ senior military officials from both sides sometimes relaxed with alcoholic drinks after ending a formal meeting, said Steve Oertwig, a U.S. military spokesman.

``Every now and then, they may have an alcoholic beverage. It’s not a big party,″ Oertwig said. ``It’s a chance to encourage trust and build a relationship with them. It’s part of being a sociable host. Both sides would toast each other for peace and cooperation on the Korean Peninsula.″

A U.S. soldier in the demilitarized zone told The Associated Press that ``one North Korean had a liking for Bombay gin.″

During a visit to Panmunjom this week, the border village was quiet. North Korean soldiers stood well back from a small concrete seam in the earth that marks the frontier. There was no sign of the threatening gestures mentioned by Margotta, head of the local U.N. Command unit.

Instead, the North’s soldiers used binoculars and cameras to watch the South and grimaced at some visiting journalists.

A group of South Korean school children looked into one of three blue huts used for the talks as part of a visit to the demilitarized zone.

In the small building, a boardroom table that is half in North Korea and half in the South, was bare, except for a small U.N. flag. Dozens of chairs were empty. Two South Korean soldiers stood guard, impassive to the visitors.

It’s not clear when the meeting hut will again be used _ or if there will be talks at a higher level to try to defuse tension over the North’s alleged nuclear program.

North Korea has repeatedly refused to hold multilateral talks on the issue. It insists on direct meetings with the United States to negotiate a nonaggression treaty _ something Washington has so far refused to do. The U.N. Security Council plans to discuss the North Korean nuclear issue next week.

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