Documents concerning the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission

Dr. Marek Hańderek

Documents concerning the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in Korea in the Archive of the Institute of National Remembrance

The Korean War ended with an Armistice Agreement signed on 27 July 1953. The Armistice Agreement established the Military Armistice Commission and the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission over the two Koreas. The first body’s main task was to settle through negotiations any violations of the truce. The MAC consisted of ten members, five appointed by the United Nations Command and five appointed jointly by Commanders of the Korean People’s Army and Chinese People’s Volunteer Army.

On 27 July 1953, Polish delegation to NNSC entered DPRK and reached Kaesong

The NNSC conducted observations and inspections where violations of the Armistice Agreement were reported to have occurred. The inspections were conducted in order to make sure that reinforcing combat aircrafts, armored vehicles, weapons and ammunition were not being introduced into the Korean peninsula. Moreover, the NNSC monitored the replacement of units and personnel by other units and personnel, to ensure they were conducted on a man-for-man basis. Supervision of the rotation was conducted by NNSC Inspection Teams at the ports of entry – five in the North and five in the South. The NNSC consisted of representatives from four states: Poland and Czechoslovakia, nominated by the communist side, and Sweden and Switzerland, nominated by the UNC.   

Very soon it appeared that NNSC failed to play its intended role. One of the main reasons was the fact that members of the Polish and Czechoslovak delegations were not neutral and helped North Korea to avoid detailed inspections. Numerous times they refused to carry out the inspections or implemented obstructive tactics. As a result, the DPRK was able to start secretly building up its armour and artillery.  

What is more, the Republic of Korea authorities accused the Polish and Czechoslovak inspection teams of spying on South Korean soil. And indeed, they were right because documents preserved in the IPN Archive provide evidence of espionage. In order to force the Polish and Czechoslovak members to leave ROK territory, its government initiated demonstrations and protests held in many cities, including the ports of entry where they were permanently stationed. Finally, in June 1956, the UNC declared the suspension of activities of the NNSC Inspection Teams in South Korea. Soon after this, North Korea did the same.

In the aftermath of those events, the Commission was not able to prevent the military reinforcement of both Korean states and its role was limited to monitoring the situation in the Demilitarized Zone. Polish and Czechoslovak delegates were stationed in the North Korean part of the DMZ while the Swiss and Swedes had their camp in the southern part. When the transformation and democratization in Poland and Czechoslovakia began, the DPRK started to consider them untrustworthy. As a consequence of this, North Korea started looking for an occasion to withdraw NNSC members from its territory. In the case of Czechoslovakia the DPRK used the opportunity provided by the division of the country into two separate states in 1993 to terminate its mission.    

On 7 November 1994, the DPRK government authoritatively informed Poland that its mission to the NNSC was terminated. When Poland responded that North Korean action meant violation of the Armistice Agreement, the DPRK insisted on the termination more forcefully and warned that after 28 February 1995, it would cut energy, water and food supplies to the Polish camp. In such circumstances Poland had no choice but to withdraw its representatives from North Korean soil. Since that time, the NNSC meets occasionally in South Korea without representatives of former Czechoslovakia, and its role is rather symbolic than real.

The IPN Archive possesses quite a big collection of documents related to North Korean affairs. Part of them concerns the NNSC. Among them there are materials produced by Unit 2000 that had been established in 1952, initially for preparing Polish personnel for the Commission in Korea. Later, soldiers from Unit 2000 also served in the International Control Commission that operated in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. In regard to Korea, this collection includes different documents like materials concerning training of soldiers, orders, correspondence, reports, personal data of officers etc.

From the very beginning, the Commission was a covert institution for intelligence officers. Among the Polish members there were mainly soldiers, and military intelligence sent more officers to Korea than civilian agencies. According to the newest findings, civilians were mostly interested in counterintelligence in order to prevent activities carried out by the CIA. In the IPN’s archive we find reports written by civilian counterintelligence officers. They refer to numerous issues like relations of Polish members with representatives of other delegations, contacts with North Koreans and suspicious behavior of several Polish delegates.  

Many of these documents are very interesting and show, for example, that the officially declared Polish-North Korean friendship was very complicated in practice. Especially in the first few years after establishment of the Commission, some Polish members had stereotypical attitudes towards Koreans, which resulted in biased judgments. A meaningful example may be a deputy chief of the first Polish delegation, Colonel Zdzisław Bibrowski. Counterintelligence reports show his rude behavior towards Korean staff. For instance, he once described a Korean maid as “an awful creature and slattern”.

On the other hand, there were periods when North Korea distrusted Poland and limited mutual contacts. The worst time in bilateral relations started after the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union which was held in October 1961 in Moscow. During the Congress, Nikita Khrushchev once again accused Joseph Stalin of numerous crimes and condemned the personality cult he had promoted. Moreover, he attacked the Albanian Labor Party for pursuing Stalinist politics and stressed his vision of coexistence with the Western World. All these events and principles were criticized by Kim Il-sung and he perceived Khrushchev’s political line as dangerous revisionism.

After that time, North Korean authorities became suspicious of all communist countries obedient to Moscow, Poland among them. This approach was noted not only by Polish diplomats in Pyongyang, but also members of the NNSC stationed in the DMZ. They described many moves made by their Korean hosts aimed to limit contacts between Poles and ordinary Koreans. Counterintelligence officers working in the Polish delegation reported that Korean citizens who were in touch with Polish representatives had been punished. They also pointed out that drivers were required to speed up while driving through settlements in order to avoid contacts between Poles and Korean inhabitants. Moreover, Polish delegates were under constant surveillance so their private rooms were searched and their conversations were eavesdropped upon.  

Documents produced by military intelligence officers who served under cover of the NNSC are especially interesting when it comes to the years 1953-1956. In that period, Poles were stationed in five South Korean ports of entry and participated in extraordinary inspections in different areas on ROK soil. Thanks to documents preserved in the IPN’s archive, it is possible to point out their main tasks and fields of interest. Officers gathered data, among others, on airbases, American warships based in South Korean harbors, the US Far East Command and the Eight United States Army. They also tried to discover and describe activities of American and South Korean intelligence.

It is worth mentioning that in that time Poland was a faithful Soviet satellite and this did not change until transition started in 1989. When it came to intelligence, Polish services shared data and information with Soviet intelligence services. There was even a time when Soviet officers led Polish military intelligence, during 1951 to late 1955. From documents stored in the IPN’s archive we can learn that it was Soviet Colonel Konstantin Iwanow who monitored the activity of several Polish officers in the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission, among them Władysław Tykociński.

Tykociński was not only a member of Polish delegation to the NNRC, he became a deputy chief of the Polish mission to the NNSC. Later he served for many years as a diplomat and in 1965 asked the USA for asylum. After arriving in the USA, he stood before the Committee on Un-American Activities of the House of Representatives and shared with Americans much information on Polish intelligence activities, including on Korean soil. His testimonies are available in the IPN Archive translated into Polish. There are also his personal files and a huge number of documents produced about him during the investigation after his escape.

In later decades, when the NNSC was forced to limit its work to the DMZ, military intelligence under cover of the Commission was less active. It limited its scope of interest to information concerning the situation in South Korea, ROK-American military drills and to some extent also relations between both Korean states. Their reports were based mainly on widely available materials like books, newspapers, TV programs and sometimes also conversations with partners from other delegations or members of the MAC. The IPN Archive possesses numerous reports of that kind.

Another group of materials stored in the IPN Archive which partly refer to the NNSC are personnel files of soldiers who served in the Commission. Due to the fact that Poland sent a thousand people to NNSC during the Cold War period, and the majority of them were soldiers, it means that there are hundreds of personnel files containing information about service in Korea. Sometimes there is only basic data about someone’s duty in Korea, and sometimes much more, including CV’s, different kinds of reports, opinions written by superiors etc.

Finally, in the above-mentioned archive there are eight albums of photographs taken in Korea between 1953 and 1987. In total there are over a thousand photographs. Not every photo is unique because several of them are duplicates. In general, the albums consist of very valuable materials because we can see members of the Commission not only working but also celebrating communist anniversaries and, last but not least, taking their leisure time.

The first group of photos, presenting members of the Commission on duty, shows among others the first session of the NNSC on 1 August 1953, the departure of the Inspection Teams to ports of entry, and their work there. These kinds of photos are actually the minority, so a great number of pictures present delegates during parties or in less formal occasions. From time to time North Koreans organized trips for Polish representatives to Pyongyang, Kaesong, Diamond Mountain, and other spots in DPRK. Several of these journeys were photographed. We can even see a group of delegates sunbathing. Another group of photos shows representatives participating in sport or chess tournaments held in the 50’s with the participation of members from other delegations. Some photos or groups of photos have descriptions. Many of them indicate the attitude of Polish representatives towards other delegations, North Koreans, Chinese and Americans. Illustrative examples may be as follows: “Our Chinese friends”, “Our Korean friends”, “Departure of Czechoslovak comrades” or “UN Command violates the Armistice Agreement”.

NNSC Inspection Teams sent to Shinuiju, Chongjin and Shinanju in the North and Incheon, Daegu and Kangnung in the South

It seems that for foreign scholars the most interesting may be a photograph series presenting release of the crew of the USS Pueblo. One of the main events of the so-called Second Korean War was the seizure of American spy ship USS Pueblo and capture of its 82 crew members by North Korean patrol boats on 23 January 1968. After long negotiations between the DPRK and the USA, the American sailors were finally freed on December 23, 1968 and crossed the Panmunjom border. Polish delegates had been there and could have photographed this meaningful event.

To sum up this short review of documents preserved in the IPN’s Archive which refer to the NNSC in Korea, I would like to underline that these materials shed valuable light on lesser known sides of NNSC activities during the Cold War. From this point of view, they may be useful for scholars interested in the history of the Korean Peninsula after the Korean War.

Release of Captain Bucher and the crew of USS Pueblo on 23 December 1968. The NNSC checking the identity of the crew before their return.