Koreas Mark 60th Anniversary of Korean War Amid Heightened Tensions
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea marked the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War last week in totally different manners, with Pyongyang vowing to bolster its nuclear capability and Seoul calling for the North's halt of military provocations and efforts for co-prosperity.
The three-year Korean War, which began on June 25, 1950, with the North Korean invasion of South Korea, ended in an armistice, not in a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas still in a state of conflict.
North Korea's media, including the party newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, criticized South Korea and the United States for making "vicious moves to provoke a new war," reiterating its claim that the Korean War was started by "U.S. imperialists" aiming to occupy South Korea.
As usual, the socialist country vowed to bolster its nuclear weapons capability to cope with U.S. hostilities. North Korea conducted two nuclear tests, in 2006 and last year.
In the North's capital, Pyongyang, about 120,000 people gathered in an anti-U.S. rally, during which the North's leadership pledged to strengthen the country's nuclear capability, the North's Central Broadcasting Station said in a report.
"Under the circumstances, in which the United States is persistently holding onto isolation and suffocation maneuvers against our republic, we will continue walking in the direction of strengthening our nuclear self-defense force so as to protect the dignity of our people and the best interests of the nation," Kim Ki-nam, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party, said in a speech during the rally.
Inter-Korean tension has considerably risen since the March 26 sinking of a South Korean patrol ship, which Seoul blames on Pyongyang. The North has denied involvement.
The heightened tension is casting a pall on six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program that has been suspended since late 2008. South Korea is negative about resuming the nuclear talks before the North is officially rebuked for the ship sinking.
South Korea has referred the case to the U.N. Security Council for the punishment of North Korea, but China and Russia, veto-holding permanent Council members and Pyongyang's traditional backers, have expressed reservations about South Korea's move. North Korea warns that it will go to war if it is punished over the ship sinking.
The current situation requires North Korea to "be alert more highly than ever" and "be ready by every means" for a possible invasion by hostile forces, Kim Ki-nam said.
Other high-profile attendants at the mass rally included Choe Yong-rim, a long-time family associate to the North Korean leader who was appointed as premier in June, Kim Yong-chun, minister of the North's People's Armed Forces, Choe Thae-bok, a Workers' Party secretary and chairman of the Supreme People's Assembly, and Yang Hyong-sop, vice president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, the radio said.
Marking the 60th anniversary in Seoul, South Korea paid a solemn tribute to the sacrifices of its soldiers and its allies with renewed calls for North Korea to stop its provocative acts.
President Lee Myung-bak called on Pyongyang to halt military provocations and make efforts for co-prosperity with South Korea. "Our ultimate goal is not a military confrontation but peaceful reunification," Lee said in his war anniversary speech at a national ceremony with thousands of Korean War veterans from home and overseas.
Expressing his appreciation for the sacrifices made by U.N. troops who fought alongside South Koreans, Lee said, "South Korean and U.N. soldiers, you were not only courageous and genuine soldiers, but also a cornerstone of South Korea's history."
South Korea has marked this year's anniversary with dozens of government programs, including scholarships for the children of foreign Korean War veterans, music performances and a book chronicling the historical role of the allied countries.
This year's commemoration of the war resonated with the renewed sense of tension after a Seoul-led multinational investigation found the North responsible for the deadly sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. Forty-six sailors were killed when the naval ship was downed by a North Korean torpedo.
President Lee, in his speech, demanded Pyongyang apologize for the attack in which North Korea denies any involvement.
"The Cheonan incident reminded us of the sad reality of the divided South and North," Defense Minister Kim Tae-young told the audience at a separate ceremony at the War Memorial hall after laying a wreath for the fallen heroes with the top U.S. commander in South Korea, Gen. Walter Sharp. "Freedom is not free, and we will continue to work together with our allies to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula," Kim said.
Hundreds of military officers from the 21 nations that fought for the South Korean side took part in the ceremony. The U.S. fought on South Korea's side in the Korean War. About 28,500 U.S. troops are currently stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against the North.
During the ceremony, Sharp vowed to deter and defeat any further provocations by North Korea. "True peace cannot exist when North Korea resorts to force and violence," Sharp said.
On behalf of the military officers from the 21 allies, Col. Harry Cockburn, a New Zealand defense ministry official, said, "I hope the Republic of Korea continues to prosper, inspired by the sacrifices of Korean and United Nations soldiers 60 years ago."
Outside South Korea, a variety of events were being held in allied countries, the foreign ministry said. Recently, the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution commemorating the 60th anniversary and reaffirming the alliance between Seoul and Washington.
Although estimates of casualties vary, historians say more than 3 million people, including 2.5 million civilians, perished during the Korean War. The U.N. allies suffered more than 40,000 battle deaths, including some 33,000 U.S. soldiers.
In Pyongyang, the North's ruling party newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, again criticized South Korea and the U.S. for making "vicious moves to provoke a new war." "The moves of the bellicose forces at home and abroad pushed the inter-Korean relations to such a touch and go situation which prevailed six decades ago and are bringing a real war to the Korean Peninsula," the editorial, carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), said June 25.
On the eve of the war anniversary, the North's KCNA released a memorandum claiming, "The U.S. imperialists have worked hard to cover up their true colors as war provocateurs and aggressors and shift the blame onto the DPRK (North Korea) while falsifying the truth of history." The memorandum added, "The U.S. imperialists crafted a plan to use the 38th parallel for dividing Korea and put South Korea under their occupation."
The North's Central Committee of the Democratic Front for the Reunification of Korea, the National Peace Committee of Korea and the North Headquarters of the Nationwide Special Committee for Probing the Truth behind the GIs' Crimes issued a joint statement on June 24, saying the Korean War was a "war of aggression ignited by the U.S. with its satellite countries and south Korea to stifle the young DPRK in its cradle and realize its wild ambition for world domination."
Meanwhile, the North's news agency released a report on crimes of the "U.S. imperialists committed against the Korean people since their occupation of South Korea."
The KCNA claimed the U.S. has brought about tremendous human and material damage to the northern half of Korea for the past six decades since landing in South Korea on Sept. 8, 1945. "The total damage amounts to US$64,959,854 million, based on records and official testimonies made by survivors."
The figure includes human damage worth $26,168,823 million, property loss of $16,703,169 million, production loss during the Korean War of $5,461,460 million, and huge amount of other defense and economic losses, according to the KCNA.
It said the U.S. killed or wounded a total of at least 5,060,770 civilians of the DPRK, including 1,247,870 killed, 911,790 abducted and more than 391,740 missing.