Joint Security Area
Inside the DMZ, near the western coast of the peninsula, Panmunjeom is the home of the Joint Security Area (JSA). Originally, it was the only connection between North and South Korea but that changed in 2007 when a Korail train crossed the DMZ to the North on the new Donghae Bukbu Line built on the east coast of Korea. There are several buildings on both the north and the south side of the MDL, and a few are built right on top of it. The JSA is the location where all negotiations since 1953
have been held, including statements of Korean solidarity, which have generally amounted to little except a slight decline of tensions. The MDL goes through the conference rooms and down the middle of the conference tables where the North Koreans and the United Nations Command (primarily South Koreans and Americans) meet face to face.
Within the JSA are a number of buildings for joint meetings called Conference Row. These are used for direct talks between the Korean War participants and parties to the armistice. Facing the Conference Row buildings is DPRK's Panmungak (English: Panmun Hall) and ROK's Freedom House. In 1994, North Korea enlarged Panmungak by adding a third floor. In 1998, South Korea built a new Freedom House for its Red Cross staff and to possibly host reunions of families separated by the Korean War. The new building incorporated
the old Freedom House Pagoda within its design. Though generally calm, the DMZ has been the scene of much saber-rattling between the two Koreas over the years.
Several small skirmishes have occurred within the JSA since 1953. The Axe Murder Incident in August 1976 involved the attempted trimming of a poplar tree which resulted in two deaths (CPT Arthur Bonifas and 1LT Mark Barrett) and Operation Paul Bunyan. Beforehand, the soldiers of both sides were permitted to go back and forth across the MDL inside of the JSA, a privilege since revoked as a result of this incident.
Another incident occurred on November 23, 1984, when a Soviet tourist, who was part of an official trip to the JSA (hosted by the North), ran across the MDL shouting that he wanted to defect. North Korean troops immediately chased after him opening fire. Border guards on the South Korean side returned fire eventually surrounding the North Koreans as they pursued the Russian national. One South Korean and three North Korean soldiers were killed in the action. The defector was not captured. In late 2009,
South Korean forces in conjunction with the United Nations Command began renovation of its three guard posts and two checkpoint buildings within the JSA compound. Construction was designed to enlarge and modernize the structures.