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Tensions rise at the DMZ between North Korea and South Korea

North Korea nullified Thursday all agreements with South Korea designed to prevent an escalation of war along the DMZ between the North and South. Our reporter visits the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) – the 2.5 mile wide buffer zone – amid the rising tensions.

By Donald Kirkcorrespondent / May 27, 2010

A North Korean soldier observes the South at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas since the Korean War, north of Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday.

Lee Jin-man/AP

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Panmunjom, Korea

The South Korean army lieutenant had an unusual reminder for tourists Thursday after a briefing by tour guides on the proper way to behave at this historic “truce village” perched between North and South Korea.

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“Tension is high,” says Lt. Han, not revealing his last name, as he faces an audience dominated by Japanese and Chinese tourists. “Please do as you're told and do not stand in front of soldiers.”

This is the Korean peninsula's Demilitarized Zone, a 2.5-mile-wide buffer between Korea's two opposing armies. It's the world's most heavily fortified border, which was created as part of the Korean war armistice of 1953. It's a potential flashpoint of military confrontation, secret tunnels, propaganda one-upmanship, tourist buses, and – when both sides are willing to talk – of negotiations.

Today, two months after the sinking of a South Korean warship, tensions are at the highest level in recent memory. And they're about to go a notch higher.

Our group of tourists files into a single blue-roofed one-room structure that straddles the line between the two Koreas. They walk around a burnished desk across which officers from both sides occasionally confront each other. But as the tourists return to their bus, waiting in front of Freedom House, the imposing stone and concrete edifice built 1998 in hopes of holding reunions there between families separated by the Korean War, they get a surprise.

The promised visit to “the bridge of no return” – where prisoners had walked across the North-South line after their release under the armistice – is suddenly canceled.

“We just got word,” says Private Shin Dong-hee, a young South Korean soldier. “It is too dangerous. We do not yet know what the North Koreans will do.”

Indeed, that is the critical question throughout the Korean peninsula.

N. Korea nullifies prior agreements

The heightened security at the DMZ is prompted by North Korea's statements today. North Korea has declared "null and void" all agreements reached between North and South Korea to insure against escalation of hostilities here along the 150-mile long DMZ and in the disputed waters of the West or Yellow Sea.

The language of the North Korean announcement seems unequivocal.

The command of the Korean People’s Army, says this is a response to “the reckless moves” of South Korean “maniacs, sycophants, and quislings.” South Korea’s defense ministry last week released a report charging that a North Korean submarine had fired the torpedo that sank a South Korean navy ship, killing 46 sailors. And South Korea is now pushing for more economic sanctions against the North.

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