Axe Murder Incident at the Korean Demilitarized Zone

The Axe Murder Incident (Korean: 판문점 도끼 살인 사건) was the killing of two United States Army officers by North Korean soldiers on August 18, 1976 in the Joint Security Area (JSA) located in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which forms the de facto border between North and South Korea. The killings and the response three days later (Operation Paul Bunyan) heightened tensions between North and South Korea as well as their respective allies, the People's Republic of China and the United States.

The incident is also known as the Hatchet Incident and the Poplar Tree Incident because the object of the conflict was a poplar tree standing in the JSA.

During the "Hatchet Incident" of 18 August 1976, North Korean troops attacked an American-South Korean party that had gone to trim a tree next to the Bridge of No Return in the Demilitarized Zone. Two American officers were beaten to death with the blunt end of axes after they ignored the North Koreans’ order to desist.

The military demarcation line (MDL) of separation between the belligerent sides at the close of the Korean war forms North Korea's boundary with South Korea. Both the North and South Korean Governments hold that the MDL is only a temporary administrative line, not a permanent border. The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is an area of land encompassing 2 kilometers on either side of the 151 mile long Military Demarcation Line (MDL). This zone was established by the July 27, 1953 Armistice Agreement along the approximate line of ground contact between the opposing forces at the time the truce ended the Korean War. The opposing sides in the conflict were enjoined under the Armistice Agreement from entering the territory, air space or contiguous waters under control of the other.