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Swiss stand sentinel on last Cold War divide

George Bush's visit to the demilitarised zone set pulses racing on both sides of the Korean border


Life for the Swiss observers in the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea has become a lot more eventful in recent months.

Security in the four-kilometre wide strip between the two Koreas has been tight since the September 11 attacks, and especially this week during a visit by President George W Bush.

For the five Swiss observers stationed in the zone, Bush's presence served as a reminder that the border lies at the "heart of global geo-politics," according to the commander of the Swiss Observation Mission, Major-General Adrien Evequoz.

Apart from Bush's visit - closely watched following his description of North Korea as part of an "axis of evil" - life for the Swiss was returning to normal when the peace was shattered by an exchange of fire between border guards of the two Koreas.

Such incidents occur from time to time, and are usually shrugged off as an accident. In every case, however, there is an immediate mobilisation, as a precaution.

Tension at its height

"The slightest increase in tension immediately affects our daily lives," Evequoz told swissinfo, adding that after September 11, "The American security measures turned our camp into a fort. We could not have any guests for the first month. Tension was at its height."

The Swiss mission shares quarters with Swedish observers, who have recently scaled back their presence. Evequoz says he and his colleagues are staying because "Ours is a personal and political mission of the highest order".

Evequoz and his colleagues are very aware of the state of relations between the two Koreas at any given time. In his view there has been a marked deterioration recently.

For Korean journalist, Shim Jae Hoon, the Swiss mission is symbolic. But, he says, "it can become essential in the event of crisis because their neutrality can enable them to mediate if a conflict occurs".

Switzerland has maintained an observer mission in the demilitarised zone since the armistice of 1953.


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