IT is a conflict which began amidst the ashes of the Second World War, yet never ended even as the guns fell silent across the rest of the globe.

The war between the two Koreas, North and South, traces its origins back to the chaos left behind by the Japanese occupation of the peninsula and their replacement by the forces of the Soviet Union in 1945.

With the Russians occupying the North up to the 38th Parallel, the US at the behest of the United Nations bolstered the South and the stage was set for Korea to become another square in the checkerboard of the Cold War.

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North Korean forces, marshalled by Kim-Ill Sung, which had been battle-hardened during their involvement in the Chinese Civil War were gathered along the border and tensions began to mount.

Rival governments were established in Seoul and Pyongyang – each claiming to be the country’s true ruler – and soon war broke out when the North invaded the South.

Hostilities lasted from June 1950 until July 1953, and saw the US-led forces of the UN, including British troops, fight first the North Korean army and then Chinese reinforcements who spilled across the border in human wave attacks.

America, fearing that a unified Communist Korea would pose a threat to its new ally Japan, threw the might of its military machine into the conflict, which saw rival fighter jets engage in dogfights for the first time in history.

On the ground, the fighting was brutal, with major casualties on both sides and much of South Korea devastated. But eventually the forces fought to a stalemate and the border was established again back where they started on the 38th Parallel.

No peace treaty was ever signed, only an armistice, and the two countries have stared across the border with outright suspicion and occasionally direct hostility for the past 65 years.

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In the intervening decades the two countries have developed almost as mirror images to each other.

South Korea, so badly damaged by the war, quickly rebuilt itself with American investment and other foreign aid to become an Asian dragon – and industrial and technological and economic powerhouse.

With its tiger economy fuelling growth it soon took its place among other first world nations, establishing global brands and hosting the Olympics in 1988.

By contract, North Korea turned inwards, becoming one of the world’s most secretive nations as it spun its own brand on Communism into a police state. Under the Kim Il-Sung, a policy known as “Juche” – self-reliance in all things, from food to cars and culture, was introduced.

A cult of personality soon developed around the Great Leader, which was passed on to his son and successor Kim Jong-il, and has continued to be developed by his grandson and current ruler Kim Jong-un. The frozen conflict between the two countries has occasionally flared into open warfare, with border skirmished costing hundreds of lives.

North Korean commandos have raided the South, drones have been shot down or crashed, and invasion tunnels discovered while ships from both navies clashed in 1999 and 2009, with heavy loss of life on the North Korean side.

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One of the most serious incidents saw the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong shelled by North Korean artillery, killing four South Koreans and injuring 19 in 2010. South Korea returned fire, claiming similar casualties.

The same year the ROKS Cheonan, a warship, was sunk carrying 104 personnel. The cause of the disaster remains in dispute, but all evidence points to a torpedo attack.

Against this backdrop of conflict, the North Korean regime has become ever-more repressive, with defectors speaking of hundreds of thousands of political prisoners kept in forced labour camps, while torture, rape, forced prostitution, public executions and human rights abuses are widespread.

The state has also been responsible for the kidnap of foreign nationals, with at least 13 Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents through the years and allegations of many more.

In one bizarre episode the South Korean film director Shin Sang-ok and his former wife, the actress Choi Eun-hee, were spirited away on the orders of Kim Jong-il, spending six years in North Korea making films for the country until they were able to escape. The demilitarised zone between the two countries remains the world’s most fortified border, 160 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, and is studded with tank traps and landmines.

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At times there have been thaws in relations – the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ending of aid from Russia led to an economic crisis in the North, while famine also broke out.

This led to hopes in the early 2000s that reunification could be possible, and talks were held, but broke down amid fears over the North’s nuclear programme – and in 2006 the country tested its first atomic device.

But, with Kim Jong-un seemingly on the brink of abandoning the programme, the door has finally been opened to end the war and give peace a chance at last.