After passing under concrete emplacements designed to be blown up at an instant's notice to block the road, foreign journalists visiting the North Korean side of the world's tensest border last week were pleasantly surprised by the demeanour of their host. A far cry from the grim fanatics some believe fill the ranks of North Korea's million-strong army, Lieutenant-Colonel Kim Kwang-il was relaxed and humorous in briefings. Spotting a journalist who had visited previously, he called her up for a photo, joking that he hoped she had not reported anything negative, and asked about reunification moves in the South. Indeed, the whole atmosphere at North Korea's zone in the truce village of Panmunjom is laid back compared with the corresponding zone in the South. In the North, after driving through sleepy farming areas and passing two skimpy military checkpoints, suddenly you are at the 4km-wide demilitarised zone, the inter-Korean border. On the other side of the line, the border zone resembles a war- movie set. Nobody can fail to notice bases, bunkers, artillery emplacements and tank traps. Visitors to the area, dubbed 'Warrior Country' by South Korean-based US troops, are shepherded from place to place in strict military fashion. Although he said the withdrawal of US troops from the border this year and annual 'Ulchi Focus' exercises had raised tensions, when asked about recent 'provocations' Colonel Kim admitted they were little more than South Korean guards opening the door to huts on the northern side and peeping out. The only signs of any tension were southern military police photographing visitors on the northern side. Questions about the apparently peaceful nature of North Korea's border - which suggests underdeployment of troops, no fear of invasion, or simply a masterly command of camouflage and underground emplacement - were brushed off. Back in North Korea's showpiece capital, foreign diplomatic and business sources are unanimous that the North wants improved ties with the United States so it can prioritise economic growth. Outside the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum - where exhibits allege biological warfare, and where an illustration of the North Korean story of a US missionary torturing a little boy with acid is hung - there is little sign of the regime's notorious anti-Americanism. Even so, in a nation comprehensively devastated by US bombs during the 1950-1953 Korean war, anti-American paranoia simmers. Kim Jong-il's 'military first' policy implies insecurity in the face of Washington's 'hostile policy'. UN World Food Programme head Richard Ragan estimated that 13 per cent of discretionary budget spending goes to the military. US visitors to Pyongyang were left with no doubt about anti-Americanism. 'They hate Americans worse than the Jews hate Nazis,' said Bill Altaffer, a retired geography teacher. The journalists' minder, Choe Jong-hun, admitted there were 'some' good Americans, such as Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell, ex-secretary of state Madeleine Albright and Roger Clinton; the latter two had both visited Pyongyang. But spouting regime rhetoric, he described Americans solely as 'evil Americans'. All problems, such as the famines of the mid-1990s ('evil Americans' blockade') and the slow process of North-South engagement ('evil Americans' interference') - were laid at the US door. After explaining that he had lost seven family members during the Korean war, Mr Choe, 50, described how his mother's three-year-old sister was hurled into a burning ruin by US troops. 'Who could do that?' he spat. 'They are monsters.'