December 31, 2007 / 8:16 AM / 11 years ago

North Korea asks South to tear down imaginary wall

SEOUL (Reuters) - Scotland has the Loch Ness Monster, the Himalayas has the Abominable Snowman and Pyongyang’s propaganda machine has the Korean Wall, a bogus barrier that has been a mainstay of North Korea’s media for nearly 20 years.

A North Korean soldier looks south through a pair of binoculars at a guard tower in the northern section of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, August 22, 2007. Over the weekend, North Korea's official media called on the South to tear down a concrete wall on the border it says stretches across the peninsula, but the greatest hindrances to tearing down the wall is that it doesn't exist. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

Over the weekend, the North’s official media called on the South to tear down a concrete wall on the border it says stretches across the peninsula, calling it a “national disgrace”.

“The existence of this wall is hindering the inter-Korean reconciliation, cooperation and independent reunification,” the Korean Central News Agency quoted a communist party newspaper report as saying.

One of the greatest hindrances to tearing down the wall is that it doesn’t exist.

Another problem is that North Korea does not allow its citizens to freely leave the country. Defectors say anyone trying to escape is shot and the state has even executed some North Koreans caught abroad and forcibly returned.

And escaping would be hard, anyway.

Both Koreas have erected razor wire fences 2 km away from the border to mark their side of the Demilitarized Zone buffer strip that bisects the peninsula.

There is little to mark the actual border within the DMZ, a heavily mined no-mans-land guarded by more than 1 million troops.

The South has put up scattered concrete, anti-tank barriers near the DMZ but not a coast-to-coast concrete wall on the border, as the North has long claimed.

A few weeks after the Berlin Wall started coming down in 1989, North Korean leader Kim Il-sung said in a New Year’s address that Seoul had built a massive concrete wall to divide the two states, which are technically still at war. The 1950-53 Korean War truce was never converted into a peace treaty.

Analysts said Kim made the claim to rally support for his state as its communist allies faded with the end of the Cold War. At the time Seoul was working to set up formal ties with the Soviet Union, then the North’s biggest benefactor.

On New Year’s Day 1990 Kim, founder of one of the world’s most isolated and repressive states, called it “a barrier of national division” preventing free travel between the two countries.

The North’s official media have never corrected Kim, who is revered at home as a god and posthumously declared the country’s eternal president.

Some international news reports accepted Kim’s pronouncement as fact, prompting Seoul to invite journalists and observers a few weeks later to look into the DMZ to see for themselves that the wall did not exist.

A South Korean soldier aims a M201 grenade launcher from an observation point in the demilitarized zone separating North Korea from South Korea in Paju, about 55 km (34 miles) north of Seoul, in this July 7, 2006 file photograph. Over the weekend, North Korea's official media called on the South to tear down a concrete wall on the border it says stretches across the peninsula, but the greatest hindrances to tearing down the wall is that it doesn't exist. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won/File

But for a wall that is not there, North Korean propaganda has painted a vivid picture of it.

It says the border wall stands 5 meters (16 ft) to 8 meters (26 ft) high, is as thick as 19 meters and was built in the 1970s by a “South Korean military fascist clique”.

KCNA has mentioned the wall about 150 times over the past decade.

Editing by David Fogarty

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