- Feb 8, 2007
- Land of Swine and Maple Syrup
Very interesting job, I'm sure the Sgt is really busy these days.
Canada has had eyes on the DMZ between the two Koreas for 60 years
By Matthew Fisher, Postmedia NewsMay 2, 2013
U.S. military vehicles cross Unification bridge, which leads to the demilitarized zone separating North Korea from South Korea near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday.
Photograph by: Ahn Young-joon/The Associated Press, Postmedia News
SEOUL, South Korea — The presence of a Canadian officer with the United Nations Military Armistice Commission ensures that Ottawa will instantly be in the loop if North Korea’s unpredictable Kim Jong Un does something foolish.
Canada’s point man in Seoul and for the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that cuts the Korean Peninsula in half is Col. Jacques Morneau. A vestigial relic of sorts, the little known post that he and his sergeant hold make them the last official representatives in a line of 29,000 Canadian soldiers who have served in Korea. Most of them were here between 1950 and 1953 when more than 1,500 Canadians were wounded and 516 died fighting communists from the North and from Red China.
It has been busy lately for the silver-haired 58-year-old Van Doo liaison officer to the UN Command. North Korea’s buffoonish young dictator has repeatedly made outrageous threats to unleash missiles on Asia and North America, while merrily accelerating a nuclear testing program that has the Pacific Rim countries on edge.
Whenever there is an incident in the DMZ — which for decades has been regarded as one of the most dangerous places on Earth — Morneau slaps a yellow band on an arm of his green combat fatigues and makes the 40-kilometre journey north to the closely watched No Man’s Land between North and South to investigate. The infantry colonel is unarmed, his security provided by South Korean troops. He goes to the DMZ at other times, too, to check on the disposition of the South’s forces and, whenever there is a defection, to ascertain whether the defector had left of his own free will.
Morneau was in the DMZ after the North Koreans sank a small South Korean gunship in 2010, resulting in the deaths of 46 sailors and again later that year when Yeonpyeong Island was shelled by the North Koreans, killing four South Korean civilians.
“What we tried to do after those two incidents was to diffuse tensions,” Morneau said. That can be a surreal business with a dynamic, world-class city like Seoul so close to where tens of thousands of North Korean troops stand watch no more than a few kilometres away from tens of thousands of South Korean and American troops.
“There are issues between the North and the South that are still unresolved after 60 years, but there is no feeling here in Seoul that the possibility of trouble is so close by,” he said. “The DMZ has a very different ambience and soldiers from the Republic of Korea (South Korea) take it very seriously. Whenever you are up there you are witnessing history.”
Six decades after fighting ended on the peninsula there is still no peace treaty between the North and the South. The armistice signed in July 1953 by military commanders from the United States, which lost 33,000 men in Korea, and from China and from what became North Korea, fell far short of that. It means a technical state of war still exists between the North and the South.
With tensions always running high, and they have been white hot in recent weeks, for those involved the DMZ represents a political minefield as well as a real one.
Morneau served as Canada’s military adviser at the UN in New York, for the UN in Haiti and as a blue beret battalion commander in Croatia with the Van Doos during a particularly harrowing time 20 years ago. He also has a master’s degree in international relations from King’s College, London, with a special interest in China. So he has become as much a diplomat as he is a soldier.
Knowing how volatile this landscape is and how closely words are scrutinized, Morneau politely declined to be drawn on what Canada’s future role as part of the UN’s longest running peacekeeping mission might be if fighting broke out again on the Korean Peninsula. But he affirmed that a strong bond continues to exist between South Korea and Canada. He saw proof of this frequently in his duties as Canada’s defence attache to Seoul as well as when he wore his third hat, overseeing annual visits by Canada’s Korean War veterans.
“There are big celebrations elsewhere, such as in Holland, but only the Koreans pay for such visits and they arrange an outstanding program,” Morneau said. “Most of the Canadians who fought here had no idea where Korea was on a map but they volunteered to come and defend them anyway. It touches Koreans that they would defend a people they didn’t know. Our veterans are still welcomed here as heroes. It shows the Koreans really appreciate the sacrifice that Canadians made for them.”
© Copyright (c) Postmedia News