There was considerable suspicion on the part of the American Command that the Russians made one of a fever plague outbreak in the spring and the tragic cholera epidemic of the summer months as excuses to limit further intercourse between the two zones.
For instance, there was the matter of the press. In February 1946 the Soviet Foreign Office, through SCAF, requested clearance for a Mr. Anatoli Varskouski, a representative of the TASS news agency, to visit Southern Korea. General Hodge replied directly to General Chistiakov saying that clearance would be gladly given and it was a splendid idea to permit correspondents to visit each other's territory on a basis of enjoying similar privileges." With this, the General proposed the names of Richard Johnston (NEW YORK TIMES), Palmer Hoyt (UNITED PRESS), and Morris Lanzberger (ASSOCIATED PRESS) for an excursion into North Korea. The American commander concluded, "I recommend that these correspondents be accorded the privileges of unrestricted travel throughout all of your territory, and freedom of censorship. In return, I shall be delighted to accord Mr. Varskouski and others in equal members similar privileges. "
By April no answer was forthcoming from the North relative to this American proposal, and the request was reinitiated by General Hodge. Still no reply, and the request was repeated a third time on 20 June, this time accompanied by a letter from the correspondents involved specifying that "the purpose of the visit would be to inform the Allied peoples of the world of the conditions and progress of the Soviet occupation of Korea." Finally, on 22 July, a terse reply came from the Soviet Command citing the cholera danger as the reason why permission could not be granted for the proposed press visit to North Korea.
All during the period of the cholera epidemic, which started in the South Korean port of Pusan, the Soviet Command indicated great alarm about its possible spread into North Korea. On 5 May the Soviet commander wrote that as yet there were no cases in North Korea, but it was considered necessary that the American command strengthen its guard on the 38th parallel. The Russians reported that they had already done so. It was also specified that during the peak of the epidemic it was essential that motor transport be stopped to the city of Ongjin via he Seoul-Haeju highway, thus in effect threatening the former agreement allowing the Americans to use this route. (See page 23)
By July 1946 the cholera epidemic was at its worst in North Korea, and General Chistiakov requested tighter border control on the part of the American forces to control its spread. The Americans increased the number of petrols along the border, so as to minimize both north-and south-bound traffic across the frontier, and so informed the Soviet command.
The Russians continued to criticize American border control, the emphasis being on the danger of cholera. On 18 July, General Chistiakov wrote that several boats had arrived from South Korea with cholera victims aboard and specified that as the source of infection in North Korea. More effective border control was requested of the Americans, particularly on movements to North Korea by the sea route.
The matter was closed with on American reply, in which General Hodge informed the Soviet command, "Please be assured that I am making every effort to prevent the movement of persons by land or by water from my zone to yours. For your information, the overall situation with respect to cholera in my zone is considerably improved.
In early August 1946, XXIV Corps G-2 commented on the situation as follows: "Using the cholera epidemic as an excuse for placing more restrictions upon U.S. -Russian cooperation, the Soviet iron curtain across the 38th parallel was drawn tighter. All correspondence from the Soviet Commander implied 'Keep out'." This excuse was given not only to exclude foreign news correspondents and to postpone a permanent survey of the 38th parallel, but also to interrupt the weekly mail exchanges which had been agreed upon at the Joint Conference.
Suffice to say here that the period ended with American and Soviet border patrols keeping their distance in silence. There was none of the easy informality of the first days of the occupation, and the most trivial difference became matters of concern for the highest echelons of military command.