Monday, September 03, 2007

Peace Dam

[photo from Ibike Korea People-to-People Program at]

'Peace Dam' symbolizes divide between North, South Korea
By Choe Sang-hun NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE, HWACHEON, SOUTH KOREA Sunday, Sep 02, 2007, Page 9
'After South Korea rushed to complete the first phase of the Peace Dam in time for the 1988 Olympics, it became clear that Seoul had misjudged the North's intention.'
In 1986, as South Korea was busy preparing for its largest ever international event -- the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul -- North Korean soldiers broke ground on a gigantic dam just above the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
As South Koreans wondered what their unpredictable communist neighbors were up to, the military dictator of South Korea, Chun Doo-hwan, offered his own terrifying possibility: a killer flood.
In response to the so-called water-bomb scare, South Korean television networks broadcast artists' conceptions of monstrous walls of water unleashed by the North Korean dam, wiping out most of Seoul, 190km downstream, with the impact of a nuclear explosion during the Olympics.
So South Korea built a dam of its own. Even schoolchildren joined the fundraising campaign to construct a protective bulwark against the threat.
Today, South Korea's "Peace Dam" -- begun in 1987, abandoned halfway through as a misguided Cold War scheme, then revived and completed in 2005 -- stands here, a 125m-high, 1,970m-wide rock and concrete hulk. There is no reservoir; the dam's only function is to contain a possible deluge, by accident or design, from North Korea's Imnam Dam, 35km up the northern tributary of the Han River.
"Like the two Koreas, the two dams are twin brothers, born at the same time, facing each other across the DMZ," said Lee Tae-ik, an official at Korea Water Resources, which maintains the South Korean dam.
"The Peace Dam is an inevitable child of a divided nation," he said.
The Peace Dam is a US$429 million monument to the politics on the divided peninsula -- its massive wall evocative of the challenge South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun faces at a three-day summit meeting between the nations' leaders from Oct.2 to Oct. 4 in Pyongyang. At the meeting, Roh plans to urge North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to scale down the tension and mistrust along the 240km border in return for economic incentives.
In few places is the South Korean desire for peace, and the sometimes surreal manifestations of inter-Korean hostility, on better display than here in Hwacheon.
"With 24,000 civilians versus 36,000 soldiers, we are the most `military intensive' county in South Korea," said Choi Moon-soon, a Hwacheon official. "People here are very anti-communist."
Here in Hwacheon, suspicion of North Korea is etched both into the landscape, which is dotted with minefields and tank traps and monuments built at some of the Korean War's bloodiest battle sites, and in the minds of residents, who remember when North Korean commandos crossed the border in 1992, killing three South Korean soldiers and eluding manhunts before escaping back to the North.
A few kilometers northwest of the Peace Dam, an asphalt road, hacked into hillsides so remote that local residents claim to have sighted supposedly extinct tigers, winds past military outposts carrying slogans like "If we fight, we will win" before coming to a dead end at the southern boundary of the DMZ.
There, the South Korean army's Seven Star Guard Post looms atop a mist-shrouded hill, part of the nearly 2-million-strong military forces on both sides of the border prepared to resume the war that was suspended with a cease-fire in 1953.
When the war halted, the two sides agreed to create a demilitarized zone 4km wide. But at Seven Star, the DMZ is only one-fifth that, the result of the armies inching in over the years to get a better vantage point against their adversaries.
"If the enemy comes within 50 meters of the borderline at the center of DMZ, we broadcast a warning three times," Captain Kwon Seong-ho said. "The moment the enemy steps on the borderline, we fire warning shots. The moment the enemy crosses it, we are licensed to kill."
Here the temperature soars to 36℃ in summer and plunges to minus 36℃ in winter. Off-duty soldiers play a form of soccer with a ball attached to a rope.
As Kwon explained, they don't want to wade into a minefield to retrieve a ball.
Even along this time-frozen frontier, there are abundant signs of how the two sides have diverged after decades of pursuing different ideologies and policies. The South Korean barracks are outfitted with satellite TV, karaoke machines and showers. At night, the fence on South Korea's side is lighted, while the energy-starved North Korean side sinks into darkness.
After the first summit meeting between the Koreas, in 2000, former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung declared that there would be "no more war" in Korea, beginning an unprecedented mood of reconciliation.
But two years later, in the middle of the World Cup soccer finals, which took place in South Korea and Japan, the North and South Korean navies engaged in a bloody skirmish on their disputed western sea border.
After South Korea rushed to complete the first phase of the Peace Dam in time for the 1988 Olympics, it became clear that Seoul had misjudged the North's intentions.
The so-called water offensive never came. North Korea used the Imnam Dam to reroute water to a hydroelectric power plant on its east coast.
In 1993, government auditors concluded that Chun had exaggerated the dam's threat to mute political discontent at home.
The Peace Dam became a symbol of Cold War hysteria.
Then, in early 2002, only months before the World Cup finals, satellite pictures showed cracks in the clumsily built North Korean dam.
"It was terrifying when, out of the blue, a huge wall of muddy water and chunks of ice tumbled down from the North," Choi said.
The North repaired its dam. But South Korea resumed construction on its own dam and finished it in 2005.
When the North-South summit meeting was announced, the mayor of Hwacheon, Chung Kap-chol, wrote to Kim urging that the two sides address a growing water dispute between the two Koreas.
Imnam Dam has reduced water inflow in the Han River by 12 percent, threatening its ecosystem and contributing to water shortages in the Seoul metropolitan area.
Some suggest that South Korea shut the Peace Dam's four sluice gates, to fill up a reservoir for drinking water. But this could cause flooding on the North Korean side. The Peace Dam, like its Northern counterpart, could be a potent weapon.
"Once peace finally comes to Korea, the Peace Dam will function like a normal dam," a public relations video at a Peace Dam museum says. "Until then, the Peace Dam stands here, silently suffering the burden of national division."

Peace Dam Protects South Korea (you can see a Google sattelite images of the dam at this site or here)
S. Korea completes 'Peace Dam' to block flood attack from North (Special to World Thursday, October 27, 2005)

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