PANMUNJOM, Korea (AP) — Some call it one of the scariest places on Earth; others view it more as a tourist spot.
On a visit to the Korean border village of Panmunjom on Wednesday, the tension was palpable as North and South Korean troops glared at each other across the military demarcation line that divides their countries.
Five things that AP journalists saw on a media tour of Panmunjom, where the Koreas may sit down as early as Friday for their first face-to-face talks since late 2015.
Panmunjom sits inside the heavily mined Demilitarized Zone that serves as the de facto border between the Koreas, and the main road to the zone is lined with barbed-wire fences and security watchtowers.
Journalists gathered near Camp Bonifas just south of the DMZ, a base named after Capt. Arthur Bonifas, one of two American officers killed by axe-wielding North Korean soldiers in a 1976 clash.
A military bus then took the journalists into the 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) -wide DMZ. Razor-wire fences and leafy hills dotted the narrow path to Panmunjom.
The armistice that halted the 1950-53 Korean War was signed in Panmunjom, a former farming village. Later, North Korean and U.S. military officers used the site, now a bleak cluster of blue huts, for meetings to oversee the often-shaky truce.
On Wednesday, a handful of tall South Korean soldiers — chosen to intimidate nearby North Korean troops — stood rigidly, gazing toward the North through darkened sunglasses. A lone North Korean soldier stood at attention in front of a North Korean building and another used binoculars to peer from a window into the South.
South Korea has proposed two sets of talks in Panmunjom, one on Friday on easing cross-border tensions and another on Aug. 1 to discuss temporary reunions of families separated by the Korean War.
GIANT NORTH KOREAN FLAG
From a nearby military checkpoint, North Korea’s frontline Kijong-dong village is visible across the border, with a giant North Korean flag fluttering from a 528-foot (160-meter) flagpole. A person rode a bicycle along a road through agricultural fields, while another walked on a trail in the woods.
Visible behind shabby tile-roofed houses was a modern building at a now-shuttered joint Korean factory park in the North Korean city of Kaesong, once a sign of detente but now a victim of rising tensions between the two Koreas.
A monument near the flagpole glorifies the Kim family that has ruled North Korea for nearly 70 years.
“Great comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il will be with us forever,” it reads, referring to current leader Kim Jong Un’s grandfather and father, who governed the county before him.
BRIDGE OF NO RETURN
Visible also is the Bridge of No Return, where North Korea and the American-led U.N. Command exchanged prisoners of war at the end of the Korean War. Nearby is the site of the 1976 North Korean attack that killed Capt. Bonifas and another officer, Mark Barrett. An empty checkpoint stands at the end of the bridge.
Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.