Joint Security Area

From New World Encyclopedia

Joint Security Area
Welcome to the JSA
Welcome to the JSA
Korean name
Hangul 공동경비구역
Hanja 共同警備區域
Revised Romanization Gongdong Gyeongbi Guyeok
McCune-Reischauer Kongdong Kyŏngbi Kuyŏk

The Joint Security Area (JSA) or Panmunjom, often called the "Truce Village" in both the media[1][2] and various military accounts[3], represents the only portion of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where South and North Korean forces stand face-to-face. The two Koreas reserve the section straddling the border between them for diplomatic meeting including, until March 1991, military negotiations between North Korea and the United Nations Command (UNC). The Joint Security Area lies within the village of Panmunjom.

The Joint Security Area at Panmunjom in the Korean Demilitarized Zone has served as both a place to resolve incidents that arise between North and South Korea and a source of incidents. The truce that called a halt to fighting during the Korean War called for establishing a place to deal with truce violations on a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week schedule. The United Nations and North Korea made every effort to ensure that the fighting which lasted over three years and took well over a million lives would not erupt again needlessly. Although incidents within the Joint Security Area threatened to erupt into full scale war, the fact that the Korean War has remained in a steady truce for over fifty years testifies to the effectiveness of the Joint Security Area's role in averting war.


The original village of Panmunjom encompassed a larger area than the current inter-military complex of the JSA, consisting mostly of farms. The JSA sits about 800 meters (1/2 mile) south of the actual village site, though still within the village's old farming area. The proximity that has led to ambiguity between the terms JSA or Panmunjom. As a village, Panmunjom no longer exists, suffering destruction during the war, only the North Korea Peace Museum sits on the old site. Residing within the North Korean half of the DMZ off limits to civilians, the village has been left depopulated and leveled, but Panmunjom still refers to the Joint Security Area. The village gained lasting fame as the site of the Korean Armistice Agreement negotiation. General Nam Il and General Harrison signed the armistice agreement at 10:00 a.m. on 27 July 1953, in a hastily constructed pavilion at Panmunjom, General Mark W. Clark, Commander-in-Chief, UNC, and by Marshal Kim Il Sung, KPA Supreme Commander, and Peng Teh-huai, Commander, CPV, later countersigned the document in separate ceremonies at Munsan approximately eighteen kilometers south of the DMZ and at Kaesong, approximately ten kilometers to the north in separate ceremonies respectively.

The Joint Security Area served as the site of the repatriation of Prisoners of War (POW's) in 1953, after the cessation of hostilities, across the Bridge of No Return. Portrayed in the movie Joint Security Area, no land mines exist within or around the area as illustrated in the movie.[4]

Originally established as a site for the United States Army, the Joint Security Area incorporated South Korea KATUSAs to give South Korea representation in the area. Since the signing of the armistice until recently, the United Nations Command unit (Joint Security Force), charged with providing security for the area, consisted almost largely of United States Army soldiers with a significant contingent of KATUSAs. Currently LTC Michael Anastasia serves as Army Commander for the unit aided by South Korean deputy commander for the South Korean unit. A U.S. Army staff with several officers and a dozen or so NCOs serve as well.[5]

One hundred thousand tourists visit the Joint Security Area yearly through Korean tour companies[6][7] and the USO[8] (through the various U.S. military commands in Korea). Before entering the DMZ, the military requires visitors to sign: "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."[9][10][11] The Joint Command prohibits North Korean citizens from participating in the tours.[12]


The Korean Armistice Agreement signed July 27, 1953, a cease-fire in the Korean War, established 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) held at the Joint Security Area. The JSA covers 800 meters, circular, bisected by the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) separating South and North Korea. Designed a neutral area, allowing free movement of both sides throughout the area. Military Police of both sides provide security for the JSA limited to thirty-five personnel on duty at a time. The administrative facilities for both guard forces are located within the JSA.[13]


Joint Security Area now

While the boundary has remained the same over the years, the buildings have changed. The KPA checkpoints on the southern half of the JSA have been removed, new ones have been built, and others have been renovated or expanded. The boundary has remained the same; an action to enforcement of the dividing line within the JSA took place after the murders of two American officers in 1976. Prior to that, the entire area had been a neutral area permitting free movement.

Since the enforcement of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) within the JSA, several UNC checkpoint buildings have also been rebuilt and/or renamed. for example, Observation Post (OP) #5 on the hill overlooking the Bridge of No Return became Checkpoint (CP) #3[14], while CP #3 (and sometimes called "The Loneliest Outpost in the World" [15][16]) served as the UNC checkpoint at the southern end of the Bridge of No Return. After the enforcement of the MDL, the North Koreans no longer had a road leading into the JSA, and within 72 hours, built the "72 Hour Bridge" (or "Bridge of 72 Hours").

Major Landmarks

Main North Korean building, Panmungak (Photo 2001)

Notable landmarks within the JSA include the Bridge of No Return and the tree where the Axe Murder Incident of 1976 took place.

In the pictures above, the small blue building on the left constitutes the MAC Conference Room, where talks take place between both sides, while the one on the right serves as the UNC Joint Duty Office building. Those buildings sit squarely on the MDL, bisecting the center of a green-felt-covered conference table inside the MAC Conference Room. Commission headquarters for both sides have been located outside the conference area (in Seoul for the UNC and in Kaesong for the KPA/CPV) Joint Duty Officers (JDO) serve at the JSA to provide continuous liaison. The JDOs meet to pass communications from the senior member or secretary of their sides. The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) also has buildings inside the JSA to conduct business, but after the fall of communism in Poland and Czechoslovakia (the KPA/CPV delegation), North Korea dismissed them from representing their side, leaving only Sweden and Switzerland (the UNC delegation) as representatives. The above pictures also show an expansion over the years of the main North Korean building in the area, Panmungak. On July 9, 1998, South Korea constructed a newer (and much larger) Freedom House within the JSA, shown below.

The new Freedom House as viewed from Panmungak (frontal view)

Staffing and Purpose

The United Nations Command constituted the Security Battalion—Joint Security Area 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 quickly grew to over 1,400 officers and men charged with 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 considerably 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 in 1952. On June 11, 1979, the name changed from US Army Support Group (Joint Security Area) to United Nations Command Support Group—Joint Security Area, changing further to United Nations Command Security Force—Joint Security Area on December 23, 1985. On October 15, 1994, UNC Commander directed retain the name United Nations Command Security Battalion—Joint Security Area.

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. U.S. officer, with the ROK officer serving as the executive officer, lead the three platoons with US Army platoon sergeants. The platoons consisted of three squads, with equal numbers of U.S. and KATUSA soldiers. Sometime after 1979, the United Nations command added a fourth platoon 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 reorganized, mixing KATUSA and US soldiers at all levels. At the platoon level, US Army lieutenants and ROKA platoon sergeants, assisted by two ROKA lieutenants and US Army platoon sergeants led two platoons. 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 US Army lieutenant as his executive officer. The number of US Army personnel assigned to the unit fell below 200 for the first time since 1952. At that time the security forces within the JSA consisted solely of KPA and ROKA soldiers, increasing tensions as South Korea refused to sign the Armistice Agreement, putting the two nations technically at war. American forces assigned to the JSA performed administrative and support roles.

On October 31, 2004, a ROK Army battalion assumed responsibility for the Joint Security Area.[17] That modified light infantry battalion consists of a battalion headquarters, a headquarters company, two security companies, and a civil affairs company. The number of US 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.

History and Major Events

During one of the initial negotiations of the armistice, the UNC side went into the truce tents one night, sawing down the chair legs of the KPA/CPV delegation. The next day, when the KPA/CPV delegates arrived, they sat lower than their UNC counterparts. Losing face, 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. Again, the KPA/CPV delegation left after losing face, but showed up at the next meeting with a flag larger than the UNC flag. At the following meeting, the UNC delegation brought in a slightly larger flag. That kept up until the two sides called a special meeting 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 has greater width than the UNC flag, while the UNC flag has greater length. The KPA flag has thicker fringe around the edges of the flag, but the UNC's has longer trim. The bulb at the top of the KPA flagpole stands taller than the UNC bulb, but the UNC's has greater width. 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 stands taller than any of the tiers on the KPA flag.

Being at the center of one of the world's most tense military and political fault lines, the Joint Security Area has been the scene of over 750 overt acts of violence. The UNC has documented with reports and photographs most of those incidents, which have been reported in the course of MAC meetings. The events listed below represent only the most egregious. Countless fistfights, shouting matches, exchanges of rude gestures, and other provocations have occurred since 1953.[18]

  • Operation Little Switch, April 1953
This operation represented a test case for prisoner repatriation, one of the four main issues of contention during two years of negotiation. North Korea exchanged 605 sick, wounded, and/or injured UNC prisoners for 6,030 sick or injured Communist prisoners.[19][20]
  • Operation Big Switch, April-September 1953
Based on the success of the repatriations undertaken earlier, a general exchange of prisoners began in late April. During Operation Big Switch, prisoners brought to Panmunjom, on the banks of the Sachong River. Each nation asked prisoners if they wished to cross the river and return to their countrymen or remain with their captors. Once made, the captive could not turn back; hence the name Bridge of No Return. During that time 13,444 UNC prisoners returned to UNC countries, and 89,493 KPA and CPV prisoners returned to their Communist countries. In March, 1953, a further 25,000 KPA soldiers held in ROKA camps had been released into South Korea on President Syngman Rhee's orders [21][22][23]
  • Operation Movement of Custodial Forces—India, September 2, 1953
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.
  • Operation Comeback, January 21, 1954
Approximately 23,000 KPA and CPV soldiers held in UNC prisoner-of-war camps refused to return to Communist control. Twenty-one UNC soldiers (20 Americans, one Briton) also refused repatriation. Under the provisions of the Armistice, those soldiers held for a further six months and interviewed by neutral observers to ensure they had freely chosen to refuse repatriation. Most KPA expatriates remained in South Korea, while the overwhelming majority of CPV expatriates traveled to Taiwan to join the Nationalists.
  • Operation Rainbow, March 1954
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.
  • On August 29, 1967, at 1645 hours, KPA soldiers armed with small arms and light machine guns attacked the United States Army Support Group Advance Camp (now known as Camp Bonifas.) During that attack, North Koreans killed one US soldier and two ROKA soldiers, while wounding twelve US soldiers, nine ROKA soldiers, and three ROK civilians. US soldiers from the Advance Camp pursued the KPA soldiers to the MDL. Following that incident the southern boundary fence for the DMZ relocated to a line north of the camp's perimeter.
  • On April 14, 1968, at 2300 hours, KPA soldiers ambushed a UNC truck transporting food and supplies to Observation Post Oullette. Using small arms & automatic weapons fire and hand grenades, the KPA soldiers succeeded in stopping the truck and attempted to kill all six soldiers aboard. They withdrew across the MDL after killing four of the soldiers (two US and two ROKA) and wounding the remaining two soldiers.[24][25]
  • Operation Breeches Buoy, December 23, 1968
On December 23, 1968, Commander Lloyd M. Bucher and his eighty one crewmen from USS Pueblo crossed the Bridge of No Return to freedom.[26] They had spent the previous eleven months in captivity, enduring torture, neglect, and malnutrition at the hands of the KPA. DPRK naval forces attacked and seized their unarmed electronic surveillance ship on January 22, 1968. The Pueblo crew represented the last group of UNC personnel to cross the Bridge of No Return.
  • Operation Temple Bell, December 1969
In December 1969 an unarmed OH-23 observation helicopter strayed over DPRK airspace, North Korean troops forcing it to land in North Korea. They held the crew for a short time, then returned them to UNC control.
  • Operation Runaway I, February 14, 1970
Communist sympathizers hijacked a Korean Airlines aircraft, forcing a diversion to Pyongyang. North Koreans refused to repatriate the thirty-nine South Korean citizens aboard the aircraft because of the state of war still existing between the two Koreas. The South Korean civilians finally returned through Panmunjom on Valentine's Day, 1970.
  • On October 12, 1970, at 1100 hours, two KPA guards and one KPA officer approached a group of UNC guards. The KPA soldiers attempted to remove the MP brassard from one UNC guard; a shoving match ensued. The KPA guards disengaged, moved to the KPA Joint Duty Officer building and returned with approximately thirty KPA guards and workers. Armed with shovels, clubs, and rocks, the KPA workers initiated a melee. North Koreans isolated one UNC guard, dragging him between the MAC and JDO buildings, beating him on the head with a shovel. Shortly afterward fifty unarmed UNC guards from the UNC JDO building arrived, joining the fray, isolating and disabling KPA guards on the UNC side of the MDL. Fighting ceased when two KPA guards emerged from a guard post armed with AK-47 rifles. Seven UNC guards suffered injuries, including one with a skull fracture.
  • On March 3, 1974, at 1415 hours, a KPA officer and two KPA guards approached a UNC-sponsored tour at UNC Observation Post 5 (now UNCP #3). The UNC escort officer prevented the KPA group from harassing the tour group, at which point the KPA officer grabbed the UNC officer's shoulder. At the same time one of the KPA guards kicked the officer in the back and groin. Approximately 25-30 KPA personnel moved to the site and isolated the UNC officer, preventing him from returning to UNC Check Point 4 until the UNC Quick Reaction Force arrived on scene and dispersed the KPA soldiers. After the UNC QRF departed with the injured officer, KPA guards returned, broke into Check Point 4 and began to vandalize the interior. The QRF redeployed to Check Point 4 and forced the KPA away. The KPA responded by sending approximately 100 additional soldiers to KPA Guard Post #7 at the west end of the Bridge of No Return. The UNC JDO arrived on the scene and prevented an escalation by proposing an immediate Security Officers' Meeting. Upon withdrawing from the area to convene the meeting, the KPA attacked the JDO sedan braking out the windows with rocks and clubs while injuring the JDO. All KPA forces withdrew to their side of the bridge.
  • Major Henderson Incident - On June 30, 1975, at 1620 hours, a DPRK journalist with a history of provocative actions verbally accosted Major Henderson, the acting commander of the US Army Support Group. When Major Henderson failed to respond to the verbal insults and rude gestures, the journalist struck him in the face. Rising to protect himself, a KPA guard attacked Major Henderson from behind, knocking him unconscious, then stomping his throat, crushing his larynx. UNC and KPA guards from around the JSA immediately responded, a melee ensuing. The KPA guards attempted to inflict further injuries to Major Henderson during his evacuation. KPA guards also assaulted a UNC-sponsored newswoman, hitting her in the face. The JSF commander arrived on the scene, confronted the fighters, ending the incident by demanding an immediate Security Officers' Meeting. UN forces successfully evacuated Major Henderson from the area, transporting him to the United States for treatment and rehabilitation.
  • Axe Murder Incident - On August 18, 1976, at 1040 hours, North Korean guards attacked a United Nations Command work party pruning a large tree obscuring visibility between two UNC checkpoints. During the fight, the KPA, using axes dropped by the fleeing work party, killed two US soldiers (Capt. Bonifas and Lt. Barrett).
  • Operation Paul Bunyan, August 21, 1976
In response to the brutal murder of two US Army officers by the KPA on 18 August, the UNC Commander, General John W. Vessey, Jr. 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.
  • On November 23, 1984, at approximately 1130 hours, during a Communist-led tour, Soviet citizen Vasily Matusak suddenly dashed across the Military Demarcation Line into South Korea. Thirty Communist soldiers pursued him, firing their weapons. The JSF commanded by Captain Bert Misuzawa deployed from Camp Kittyhawk to safeguard Matusak and repel the North Koreans. The UN Forces quickly outmaneuvered and isolated the KPA soldiers in the area of the Sunken Garden, now the site of the Unification Monument. In the twenty-one minute firefight that ensued, Private First Class Michael A. Burgoyne suffered wounds, and Corporal Jang, Myong-Ki died.[27] The JDO NCO negotiated a cease-fire that enabled the North Koreans to withdraw, suffering five wounded and three killed. Lt. Pak Chul (Lt. Bulldog) may have been one of those killed in this firefight, though documentation has not been found yet. He has not been seen in the JSA since that incident.
  • KPA Abandonment of the MAC Meetings, March 1991
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 can be representatives, they refused to attend any more MAC meetings.[28]
  • Operation Popeye, February 1, 1994
In January 1994 waves swept two KPA soldiers into the East China Sea. Rescued by elements of the South Korean Navy, neither soldier wished to defect, so South Korea returned them to North Korea through Panmunjom.
  • Operation Bobby Hall, December 29, 1994
In December 1994 an unarmed OH-58 Kiowa helicopter from the US Army crossed the MDL during foul weather. KPA air defense forces shot the aircraft down[29] killing co-pilot David M. Hilemon. North Korea released Pilot Bobby Hall thirteen days later, after signing an apology for “accidentally straying” into North Korean airspace.
  • A number of defections have taken place over the years, the most recent being the defection of North Korean People's Army Senior Captain Byun on February 3, 1998.


See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to::


  1. Lee Jong-Heon, Panmunjom, South Korea (UPI) Dec 20, 2006 Korea Truce Village At Peace Retrieved April 4, 2008.
  2. Despite tensions, tourists flock to Korean DMZAP MSMBC. Retrieved April 4, 2008.
  3. Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Mine Action Information Center at James Madison University. Retrieved April 4, 2008.
  4. Gongdong gyeongbi guyeok JSA Movie Overview. Retrieved April 4, 2008.
  5. This information was obtained from LTC Anastasia from April 26-28, 2007, at the JSA Veterans Reunion in Las Vegas, NV.
  6. Panmunjom Tour Travel Information Center
  7. DMZ Tour Guide
  9. Panmunjom By Jennifer Lee '98 June 1995, yesei magazine.
  10. Surreal, sobering visit to Korea's Demilitarized Zone
  12. [1]
  13. UNC Reg 551-1, Compliance With the Korean Armistice Agreement URL retrieved November 29 2006
  14. Cohen: Economic Failure Plagues North Korea
  16. Panmunjom
  17. Leadership of Joint Security Area at DMZ transferred to S. Koreans
  18. Records of the UNC Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC)
  19. Barton Bernstein, “The Struggle over the Korean Armistice: Prisoners of Repatriation?” in Child of Conflict: The Korean-American Relationship 1943-1953, ed. Bruce Cumings (1983).
  20. U.S. Army Forces, Far East, 8086th Army Unit, Military History Detachment.Operation Little Switch, 4 vols., n.d.
  21. Syngman Rhee Biography: Rhee Attacks Peace Proceedings
  22. The Korean War: Years of Stalemate, pg 30
  23. THE KOREAN WAR 1950-1953, pg 245
  24. DMZ ambush survivors seen lucky to be alive
  25. Survivor thought ambush was all-out attack
  26. Pueblo crew of 82 freed by N. Korea URL
  27. Soldiers gather to honor KATUSA killed at Korean JSA in 1984
  28. DPRK, UNC to Resume High-Level Military Talks
  29. Press Release - OH-58C Helicopter Down in North Korea URL retrieved December 3, 2006

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Coston, Anthony M. 2003. Is U.S. Army rear area and base security doctrine sound for sustaining operations on the noncontiguous nonlinear battlefield? Command and General Staff College (CGSC), School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) Monograph. Fort Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. OCLC: 56561952[2] Retrieved April 4, 2008.
  • Cumings, Bruce. (ed.) 1983. Child of Conflict: The Korean-American Relationship 1943-1953. University of Washington Press. ASIN: B000ORWQM4
  • Laufenberg, James F. 1999. Daily business in the United Nations Command Security Battalion Joint Security Area (UNCSB-JSA). Personal experience monograph. Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College. OCLC: 50009556
  • Miller, William P. 2005. Strategic leadership: shaping the culture of a combined organization. Personal experience monograph. Carlisle Barracks, Pa: U.S. Army War College. OCLC: 60770414
  • United States. 1979. Joint security area, DMZ, Korea. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency. OCLC: 6423671
  • U.S. Army Support Group, Joint Security Area, Panmunjom, Korea: twenty-one years in front of them all. 1973. U.S.: The Group. OCLC: 33086793

External links

All links retrieved August 3, 2022.


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