Monday, July 11, 2005

The Korean War - Part IV

Eisenhower being sworn in as president

In January 1953, Dwight Eisenhower succeeded Truman as president. Having been openly critical of the war he made it be known that he was willing to use nuclear weapons, in order to bring about an end to the hostilities.

In early April the sides came together once again and during this time the first prisoners were exchanged in Operation Little Switch. The Korean War Armistice Agreement was officially signed on 27 July 1953, at the truce village of Panmunjeom and resulted in a ceasefire between the two countries. However a formal declaration of peace has never been signed, meaning that the two countries are still officially at war.

American marines crossing the Freedom Bridge, which links North and South Korea at Panmunjom

The final exchange of prisoners of war began on 5 August and continued until 23 December 1953. It was called  Operation Big Switch and took place on the border between the two countries on the Bridge of No Return. Prisoners were brought to the bridge and given the option to remain in South Korea or cross and never be allowed back

Much controversy surrounded the exchange regarding the voluntary repatriation of Chinese and North Korean soldiers, as well as allegations of the torture and brainwashing of UN prisoners of war. Nearly 76,000 prisoners of war were returned to the communists, whilst 12,773 United Nations Command POWs were repatriated. Whilst held captive around 40 per cent of the UN soldiers died and many of those that returned were malnourished and weak from their ordeal.

American prisoners of war 

In the armistice agreement the Demilitarised Zone(DMZ) was established to act as a 4 kilometre wide buffer zone between North and South Korea. It is the most heavily fortified border in the world and cuts the Korean Peninsula in two. Each side agreed to move their troops back 2000 metres and although soldiers from both sides are still allowed to patrol it, they must not cross the Military Demarcation Line(MDL) which runs through the centre.