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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.

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“We’re not going to do tours if it’s too dangerous,” says Mr. Tharp, who has spent most of his career both in the Army and in civilian life observing and advising on North Korean issues. As for what to expect in coming days and weeks, he says, “You don’t get a breakthrough until you raise tensions real high.”

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Until the last week or two, the general view among South Koreans was that American troops here were no longer needed.

The South Koreans say they, not their American ally, would bear the brunt of a North Korean attack. The battalion of 600 soldiers that guards this truce village now includes only 40 American soldiers, a token force that serves as a symbol of the deterrent offered by the U.S.-Korean alliance. The U.S. still has 28,500 troops in Korea, the vanguard well south of here on the approach to Seoul.

'S. Korea was very soft'

A Korean-American tourist who has lived in New Jersey for 30 years recalls the tensions he experienced more than 30 years ago as a Korean Army officer leading a platoon south of the DMZ in mountains on the eastern side of the peninsula.

“Everything will calm down in a few months,” says the businessman, who would only give his surname, Kim. “The first few weeks are the most dangerous. Then things slow down.”

Mr. Kim adds that he was worried enough, however, to have asked the travel agency that put him on the tour if it was safe. The agency assured him it was, at least until South Korea resumes the loudspeaker barrage.

“We expected them to invade in 1975 after the victory of the Communists in Vietnam,” he says. “Probably the soldiers on the DMZ today have the same feelings as we did then.”

Not everyone, though, is optimistic. “Most ordinary people do not feel so tense,” says Paek Soo-jin, a South Korean tour guide, “but I’m scared.” Previously, “We gave everything to North Korea and want to talk,” she says.

South Korea was “very soft," she continues. "Now North Korea wants to start another war.”