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DIVIDED KOREA. Korea, with its rich culture and history, will be in the world spotlight when the Olympic Games begin in Seoul next month. For South Koreans, the Games are a celebration of their nation's coming of age. Beginning tomorrow, the Monitor will run a four-part series tracing South Korea's achievement of economic prowess and movement toward democracy.

By Maps/page designJoan Forbes. TextAlice Hummer / August 29, 1988

How one Korea became two To expedite the 1945 Japanese surrender in Korea, the peninsula was split temporarily into two zones, with the United States occupying the area below the 38th parallel and the Soviets in the region above it. In the South, Washington established a government run by the US military, while in the North, Moscow installed a communist-dominated government.

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In December 1945, the US and the Soviet Union signed the Moscow Agreement, which provided for a four-power trusteeship (including China and Britain) to govern a unified Korea until a national government could be set up. When no agreement was reached on a government by 1947, the US referred the matter to the United Nations.

The UN proposed creating a national assembly through supervised elections in both the North and South. When the North rejected the plan, the UN went ahead with elections in the South. The vote was held in May 1948, and the new assembly drew up a democratic Constitution and elected Syngman Rhee President. The Republic of Korea was formally established on Aug. 15, 1948.

The North followed with Soviet-style elections, and declared the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on Sept. 9. Kim Il Sung was installed as President. Soviet and US troops were withdrawn.

On June 25, 1950, North Korea launched a military attempt to unify the peninsula, capturing the South Korean capital in four days. At South Korea's request, US forces soon arrived and were later joined by UN troops from 16 countries. The North Korean Army pushed so far south that the UN forces were left holding only a small area of the peninsula around Pusan. American reinforcements arrived and were able to drive the communists back. UN forces then captured the North Korean capital and later reached the Yalu River. Eventually Chinese troops came to the aid of the North Koreans and fighting centered on the 38th parallel.

An armistice, though not a peace treaty, was signed on July 27, 1953. Forty percent of South Korea's industrial facilities had been destroyed. In the North, grain production had fallen by 88 percent and industrial production by 50 percent. Total casualties are estimated at 2.9 million; the US lost 54,200 men.

Today, the two nations remain technically at war. South Korean troops, bolstered by a US presence of 42,000, stare at North Korean soldiers across the demilitarized zone that was established under the armistice. An uneasy peace reigns across the no-man's-land.

Pueblo incident

North Korean patrols seized the USS Pueblo, a US intelligence ship, as it moved off the coast of North Korea on Jan 26, 1968. The US maintained that the ship was in international waters, but Pyongyang insisted its territory had been violated and held Pueblo's 82 crew members hostage for nearly a year. Although it is unclear how much classified information the North Koreans obtained, the incident triggered an ongoing controversy over whether the military's code of conduct - which only allows servicemen to disclose their name, rank, and serial number - should be altered for wartime or hostage conditions.


Site of a popular revolt against martial law in May 1980. At least 200 people were killed when the Army suppressed the rebellion; government critics charge that more than 2,000 died. Questions about the massacre and calls for an investigation of military conduct have haunted the governments of Chun Doo Hwan and his successor, current President Roh Tae Woo.

Labor unrest

Site of massive 1987 strikes at the factories and shipyards of the nation's largest and most powerful corporate conglomerates, including Hyundai, Samsung, Daewoo. Urged on by last summer's atmosphere of political protest, strikers called for higher wages and unionization, for a larger share of South Korea's ``economic miracle.'' Clashes between workers and police were reported across the country.

History of an ancient kingdom

Archaeological evidence suggests that the Korean Peninsula was first settled 5,000 years ago when Tungusic tribes migrated to the area from Manchuria and northern China. Historians believe the first Korean state - Koguryo, in the northern part of the peninsula - developed around AD 100. Two other kingdoms, Paekche in the southwest and Silla in the southeast, emerged in 250 and 350. The three struggled for several centuries for control of the peninsula. Silla unification period (668-892)