Between midnight and dawn on the morning of June 18, approximately 25,000 nonrepatriate North Korean prisoners of war escaped from United Nations Command camps at Pusan, Masan, Nonsan, and Sang Mu Dai, Korea. In a press release it quickly issued, the United Nations Command stated “that the action had been secretly planned [Page 1197] and carefully coordinated at top levels in the Korean Government” and that there was “every evidence of actual collusion between the Republic of Korea Army guards and the prisoners.” In Clark’s succinct description, “All hell broke loose at Rhee’s order.” A few escapees were recaptured, but most melted into the Korean population.
On the same day at Panmunjom, staff officers of both sides had just reached complete agreement on all paragraphs of the armistice. The immediate reaction of the Communist side to the escape was to suspend any further work on the remaining final details of the armistice and call for a senior liaison meeting that afternoon. At this meeting, Harrison formally notified the Communist side of the mass escape and, in a statement based on the earlier press release, squarely placed the blame on Rhee’s shoulders. Numerous telegrams describing the breakout and the immediate measures taken by the United Nations Command at the prison camps and at Panmunjom are located in Matthews files, lot 53 D 413. See also, Clark, From the Danube to the Yalu, pages 279–282; Hermes, Truce Tent and Fighting Front, pages 451–452; and the Department of State Bulletin, June 29, 1953, pages 905–908.