By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, July 27 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Saturday commemorated the 60th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the Korean War and honored the services and sacrifices of the U.N. forces that fought against the communist North.
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950 after the communist government north of the Korean Peninsula's 38th parallel invaded South Korea. It ended on July 27, 1953 with the signing of an armistice that left the demilitarized zone separating the two countries.
About 4,000 participants, including government representatives from 27 nations, ambassadors, veterans, government officials and citizens, attended this year's ceremony at the War Memorial of Korea in central Seoul.
President Park Geun-hye thanked the war veterans who sacrificed their lives far away from home for freedom and peace of South Korea and pledge to work to promote regional peace.
"In the last 60 years, uneasy peace has been maintained on the Korean Peninsula, with the world's longest cease-fire," Park said in a nationally televised address. "Now, we have to stop confrontation and hostilities and make a new Korean Peninsula. We have to open an era of new peace and hope on the peninsula."
Park pledged to ensure a strong deterrence against North Korea and work closely with other nations to get the communist regime to become a responsible member of the international community.
"I will not accept any provocations that threaten the lives and properties of our people," Park said. "We will put forth our utmost efforts to have a strong deterrence and close cooperation with the international community to make North Korea stop provocations and become a responsible member of the international community."
She also reiterated her vision to build an international park inside the Demilitarized Zone to turn the heavily armed area which is guarded by armed forces of the two Koreas into a place of "peace and trust."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's message called for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and become a responsible member of the international society through dialogue.
"I firmly believe that neither the nuclear question nor any other outstanding issues on the peninsula can be resolved without trust, dialogue and cooperation between the two parties," said Ban's message which was delivered by Noeleen Heyzer, executive secretary of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. "Restarting credible dialogue and meaningful engagement should be the first step to overcome the current standoff towards a permanent resolution of the Korean conflict."
"This 60th anniversary calls on all of us to ensure that the sacrifices of so many who fought in the war were not in vain and that the reunified Korean Peninsula will enjoy democracy, prosperity and human dignity for all, as well as a peace that will last for generations to come."
This year's event highlights the importance of international efforts to bring peace and stability to the Korean Peninsula. On the eve of the 60th anniversary, Seoul proclaimed the day "U.N. Forces Participation Day" to pay homage to veterans of U.S.-led Allied Forces who fought alongside South Korea in the three-year war.
As part of the U.N. Allied Forces, 21 countries helped South Korea fight off invading troops from the communist North, with 16 of them sending combat troops and the five others providing medical assistance units. Tens of thousands of U.N. troops were killed in action.
Most countries that joined the U.N. forces were worried about the spread of communism, and they saw the North's invasion of South Korea as a stepping stone for a more pervasive communist threat in the future.
During the commemoration ceremony, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key called on the two Koreas to work together to ease tension on the Korean Peninsula.
"Sixty years later there is still no peace treaty and Korea remains a divided nation. We hope that the pain of separation can be healed and the division of Korea eventually overcome," Key said as the leader of a ally that fought alongside the South in the Korean War. "We urge North Korea to work constructively with the Republic of Korea and the international community for peace on the Korean Peninsula. In that respect the Armistice Agreement still has a role to play, helping to provide the stability on which trust and cooperation with North Korea can be built."
Park Seung-choon, the Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, awarded a special medal to the representative of Korean War veterans during the ceremony. About 180,000 surviving veterans will also be granted the medal.
In North Korea, where the day is celebrated as "Victory Day of Fatherland Liberation War," the young leader Kim Jong-un and senior military leaders watched a large military parade in the capital city Pyongyang, which was broadcast live by the state-run Korean Central Television.
The communist country has claimed it won the Korean War and observed the day as "Victory Day" to praise the founder Kim Il-sung's achievement in battle.
Thousands of goose-stepping soldiers marched across Kim Il-sung Square with military equipment, including ballistic missiles, cannons and rockets on mobile launchers following in the march.
Chinese vice president Li Yuanchao watched the ceremony with Kim and the two were often seen speaking together during the ceremony, showing signs of close relations between the two nations.
On the eve of the anniversary, Li in Kim's company watched a performance of the Arirang mass games conducted by tens of thousands of gymnasts, dancers and students at Pyongyang's 150,000-capacity May Day stadium.
China had fought alongside the North against South Korea, the United States and United Nations forces, with the conflict ending in a stalemate.
During the ceremony, the North's military leader Choe Ryong-hae called on the armed forces and the country's citizens to strive to build a prosperous nation and be prepared to opposed any foreign aggression.
"A peaceful environment is important for our country that puts priority on economic construction and improvement of the lives of our people," Choe said. "All armed forces and people should ... strengthen the nation's defense posture and stand ready for a combat situation to be able to defense against any intrusion by foreign forces."