Amid pause in ten­sions, Koreas mark 70th an­niver­sary of war

Orlando Sentinel - - Nation & World - By Hyung-Jin Kim

SEOUL, South Korea — North and South Korea on Thurs­day sep­a­rately marked the 70th an­niver­sary of the start of the Korean War with largely sub­dued com­mem­o­ra­tions amid the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, a day af­ter the North abruptly halted a pres­sure cam­paign against the South.

South Korea is­sued a joint state­ment with the United States, which fought along­side it dur­ing the 1950-53 war trig­gered by a sur­prise North Korean in­va­sion. The U.S. still sta­tions about 28,500 sol­diers in South Korea in what North Korea views as a mil­i­tary threat.

In the state­ment, South Korean De­fense Min­is­ter Jeong Kyeong-doo and U.S. De­fense Sec­re­tary Mark Esper said they “com­mit to strength­en­ing and adapt­ing the al­liance to meet present and fu­ture chal­lenges” and urged North Korea to im­ple­ment past dis­ar­ma­ment pledges.

Jeong and other South Korean mil­i­tary lead­ers later paid their re­spects at a na­tional ceme­tery in Seoul, where about 130,000 war­related dead, mostly South Korean sol­diers, are buried or hon­ored.

They were given spe­cial per­mis­sion to en­ter Seoul Na­tional Ceme­tery, which has im­posed en­try re­stric­tions amid a resur­gence of the coro­n­avirus in re­cent weeks. The ceme­tery re­ceived about 530,000 visitors in June last year but only about 61,000 this month, ac­cord­ing to ceme­tery of­fi­cials.

A war mu­seum in Seoul, nor­mally a pop­u­lar place to visit on the war’s an­niver­sary or on Memo­rial Day on June 6, re­mained shut Thurs­day.

In the evening, South Korea held a cer­e­mony with 300 war vet­er­ans, be­reaved rel­a­tives and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials at a mil­i­tary air­port near Seoul. It was far less than the 4,000 peo­ple who at­tended last year, ac­cord­ing to Min­istry of Pa­tri­ots and Vet­er­ans Af­fairs.

Dur­ing the cer­e­mony, Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in said he hopes North Korea will “boldly em­bark on an en­deavor to end the most sor­row­ful war in world his­tory.”

He said the Koreas must achieve peace first be­fore be­ing able to see the path to re­uni­fi­ca­tion.

North Korea marked the an­niver­sary with vis­its to mon­u­ments to late sol­diers and with anti-U.S. rhetoric and news­pa­per editorials prais­ing its fight­ing in “the Fa­ther­land Lib­er­a­tion War.”

An in­sti­tute run by the North’s For­eign Min­istry said in a state­ment that “we will con­tinue to build up our strength to over­whelm the per­sis­tent nu­clear threats that the U.S. has launched at us.”

The main news­pa­per, Rodong Sin­mun, said in an ed­i­to­rial that, “The spirit of de­fend­ing the coun­try in the 1950s which brought about a vic­tory af­ter de­feat­ing the ag­gres­sors is valu­able men­tal her­itage to be glo­ri­fied for­ever, gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion.”

Seoul’s Uni­fi­ca­tion Min­istry, which han­dles re­la­tions with North Korea, said there were no signs that North Korea had or­ga­nized mass public events com­mem­o­rat­ing the an­niver­sary.

North Korea con­sid­ers July 27, the day when the war’s ar­mistice was signed in 1953, a big­ger an­niver­sary be­cause it views it as the day of its war vic­tory. But the North held a mass public rally in Py­ongyang, its cap­i­tal, on the 65th an­niver­sary of the war’s start in 2015, the Uni­fi­ca­tion Min­istry said.

Sev­enty years af­ter the war’s be­gin­ning, the Korean Penin­sula re­mains tech­ni­cally in a state of war be­cause the ar­mistice that ended the fight­ing has yet to be re­placed with a peace treaty.

An­i­mos­ity has deep­ened re­cently as North Korea re­sumed ag­gres­sive rhetoric to­ward South Korea, blew up a Seoul-built li­ai­son of­fice on its ter­ri­tory and threat­ened to take steps to nul­lify 2018 ten­sion-re­duc­tion deals.

Ob­servers be­lieve North Korea is try­ing to wrest con­ces­sions from Seoul and Wash­ing­ton amid stalled nu­clear talks.

Ja­panese De­fense Min­is­ter Taro Kono told reporters Thurs­day that he be­lieves North Korea might have at­tempted to di­vert public at­ten­tion away from prob­lems such as the coro­n­avirus.

CHUNG SUNG-JUN/GETTY

South Korean per­form­ers in mil­i­tary uni­forms re­lease pi­geons Thurs­day, the Korean War’s 70th an­niver­sary.

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