6 March 2019
For a New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) officer serving on the heavily militarised border between North and South Korea, the recent relative silence has become golden.
New Zealand Army Captain Steve Bougen is part of the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission Secretariat (UNCMAC-S), which supervises the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement that resulted in the ceasefire between North Korea and United Nations forces defending South Korea.
He is posted to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), the four-kilometre-wide buffer that has separated the two Koreas for more than 65 years, where the loudspeakers long used by both sides in a tit-for-tat aural onslaught have been silent for months.
The loudspeakers can reportedly be heard over a distance of 24 kilometres at night and about 10 kilometres during the day, and had been a source of tension between the two countries.
“There are no more competing ear-splitting broadcasts that previous NZDF personnel deployed here had warned us about,” Captain Bougen said. “The border has become quiet.”
The South Korean loudspeakers stopped blaring news, radio dramas, pop music and discussions of life in the South across the border with North Korea during the run-up to the first meeting between the countries’ leaders in April 2018.
North Korea’s broadcasts consisted of patriotic songs, praise for leader Kim Jong-un and criticism of South Korea and the United States.
As Assistant Corridor Control Officer in UNCMAC-S, Captain Bougen is part of a three-member team that approves and monitors crossings, of vehicles and people, of the border with North Korea.
He also helps inspect South Korean units based along the DMZ and carries out corridor patrols.
Many South Koreans were familiar with New Zealand and its contribution to the United Nations’ action to repel North Korea’s invasion of its southern neighbour from 1950 to 1953, he said.
Since he arrived for his six-month posting to South Korea in October, there had been many occasions when elderly South Koreans had come up to him and given him a thumbs-up, Captain Bougen said.
“I assume this is due to their understanding of our involvement in the Korean War and our current commitment to safeguard the Armistice Agreement.”
South Korean soldiers were keen to engage with foreign troops serving as part of the UNCMAC-S, he said.
“We all get along and share a common goal – peace on the peninsula.”
The NZDF has contributed to the United States-led UNCMAC-S since 2003. It currently has seven personnel monitoring the armistice and performing operational, education, liaison and corridor control functions for the UNCMAC-S.
Captain Bougen, who grew up in Vogeltown in Wellington and now lives in Upper Hutt, enlisted in the New Zealand Army in 1984, while he was halfway through his senior year at Wellington College.
“Although I enjoyed school I needed a change,” he said. “So when the Army recruiters set up a stand at school I decided to give it a go and have not looked back.”