A closer look at Panmunjom, the famous border town where a US soldier crossed into North Korea

Jul 18, 2023, 9:12 AM

FILE - A North Korean soldier looks at the southern side through a pair of binoculars at the border...

FILE - A North Korean soldier looks at the southern side through a pair of binoculars at the border village of the Panmunjom, in the Demilitarized Zone, DMZ, that separates the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. A series of low-slung buildings and somber soldiers dot the landscape of the DMZ, the swath of land between North and South Korea where a soldier on a tour crossed into North Korea on Tuesday, July 18, 2023, under circumstances that remain unclear. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

(AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

Low-slung buildings, blue huts and somber soldiers dot the border village of Panmunjom inside the DMZ, or demilitarized zone, the swath of land between North and South Korea where a U.S. soldier on a tour crossed into the North under circumstances that remain unclear.

The soldier was on a tour of the storied border town, inside the heavily fortified 154-mile-long (248-kilometer-long) DMZ, when the crossing happened, U.S. officials said Tuesday. It remained unknown what prompted the soldier’s actions or what the motivations might have been. The soldier was believed to be in North Korean custody.

The DMZ is lined with observation posts on both sides, whose soldiers watch the border and each other carefully for any signs of transgression. North and South Korea remain technically in a state of war since the hostilities in Korean War ended and an armistice was signed — at Panmunjom — in 1953. Neither nation has direct jurisdiction over Panmunjom, where a concrete slab divides the two nations.

North Korea, whose formal name is the DPRK, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, maintains tight controls on entry and has been known to punish those who illegally cross the border from South Korea into its territory. Not all of the frontier with South Korea is as strictly patrolled as the DMZ around Panmunjom, though it is unclear how intensively the North patrols its side in more remote areas.

The North under the Kim family and the third-generation current leader, Kim Jong Un, is a tightly controlled society, and very few Americans are in the country at any given time; the two countries have no diplomatic relations and typically conduct any necessary diplomacy through third countries.

While the South Korean side of the DMZ brings in frequent tourists, few North Koreans have ever ventured either to or near their side of the heavily fortified DMZ. On the South Korean side, though, the different areas where tourists are welcomed sometimes take pains to put on a positive spin, with colorful ribbons tied to railings and the occasional ribbon-wielding dancer performing not far from barbed wire and stone-faced soldiers. Cameras are OK in some locations and prohibited in others.

During the politically inflected 2018 Olympics in the South Korean town of Pyeongchang, Associated Press journalists were shown the baby blue-colored room in Panmunjom that’s the only spot where high-level talks are held between the two countries. In the room was a large wooden table where talks are held. The border runs right down the middle of it.

At one point during another 2018 visit at another site along the DMZ, an AP illustrator was sketching the view below when a South Korean soldier came over and tore four pages from his book.

Tours to the southern side of Panmunjom reportedly drew around 100,000 visitors a year before the pandemic, when South Korea restricted gatherings to slow the spread of COVID. The tours resumed fully last year.

There have been a small number of U.S. soldiers who went to North Korea during the Cold War, including Charles Jenkins, who deserted his army post in South Korea in 1965 and fled across the DMZ. He appeared in North Korean propaganda films and married a Japanese nursing student who had been abducted from Japan by North Korean agents. He died in Japan in 2017.


Associated Press journalists Paul Newberry, Cara Rubinsky, Claire Galofaro and Howie Rumberg contributed to this report.

United States News

Associated Press

University of the People founder and Arizona State professor win Yidan Prize for education work

NEW YORK (AP) — Shai Reshef, president and founder of the online, tuition-free University of the People, and Arizona State professor and researcher Michelene Chi, who has developed a framework to improve how students learn, are the 2023 winners of The Yidan Prize, the biggest award in education. Reshef and Chi will each receive 15 […]

28 minutes ago

Associated Press

Massachusetts man stabs five officers after crashing into home following chase, police say

TAUNTON, Mass. (AP) — A Massachusetts man who sped away during a traffic stop led police on a chase that ended with him crashing into a home and then stabbing five officers, including the local police chief, before he was arrested, authorities said. The Taunton police officers were injured trying to take Douglas Hagerty, 35, […]

55 minutes ago

Associated Press

3 dead after car being pursued by police crashes in Indianapolis minutes after police end pursuit

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Three people including a teenage boy died when a car being chased by police in Indianapolis for reckless driving collided with another vehicle only minutes after officers ended their pursuit, authorities said Wednesday. An Indiana state trooper began the pursuit Tuesday night when the driver of a Dodge Challenger fled the officer’s […]

60 minutes ago

Associated Press

Man serving sentence for attacking parents fails to return to halfway house and considered escapee

MOUNT LAUEL, N.J. (AP) — A man serving a prison sentence for attacking and seriously injuring his parents more than two decades ago remains missing Wednesday, several days after he failed to return to the halfway house where he was living. Edward Berbon, 54, was assigned to a halfway house in Camden County and had […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Montana judge blocks enforcement of law to ban gender-affirming medical care for minors

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A law to ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors in Montana is temporarily banned, a state judge ruled Tuesday, just four days before it was to take effect. District Court Judge Jason Marks agreed with transgender youth, their families and healthcare providers that a law passed by the 2023 Montana […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Authorities make arrests in the case of Kentucky woman reported missing 8 years ago

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The former boyfriend of a central Kentucky woman who disappeared more than eight years ago has been arrested on charges stemming from the investigation, the FBI and Kentucky State Police said Wednesday in a statement. Brooks Houck was arrested without incident on charges stemming from the Crystal Rogers investigation, the statement […]

3 hours ago

Sponsored Articles



Importance of AC maintenance after Arizona’s excruciating heat wave

An air conditioning unit in Phoenix is vital to living a comfortable life inside, away from triple-digit heat.



When most diets fail, re:vitalize makes a difference that shows

Staying healthy and losing weight are things many people in Arizona are conscious of, especially during the summer.



At Ability360, every day is Independence Day

With 100 different programs and services, more than 1,500 non-medically based home care staff, a world-renowned Sports & Fitness Center and over 15,000 people with disabilities served annually, across all ages and demographics, Ability360 is a nationwide leader in the disability community.

A closer look at Panmunjom, the famous border town where a US soldier crossed into North Korea