By Selwyn Manning in Seoul
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark was the keynote speaker today at the 50th Armistice Anniversary in Panmunjom, South Korea.
Celebrations marking the signing of the Armistice were led by the United Nations at the south side of the Joint Security Area (JSA) at the demilitarised zone on the border of North and South Korea.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark was the UN’s keynote speaker at Sunday’s celebrations marking Koea’s 50th Armistice Anniversary.
Thousands had gathered from the 16 countries that contributed military forces in the Korean War from 1950 to July 27 1953.
“50 years ago today, at 10pm, the guns fell silent on the Korean Peninsula. After three years and one month, a bitter and devastating war had come to an end,” Helen Clark told the gathering.
General Mark W. Clark signs the Armistice, July 27 1953.
“This weekend” she said “we remember, together with veterans of all nations which contributed to the UN Command, the terrible human costs of the war.”
More than 84,000 UN personnel were killed and thousands more were wounded.
“Korean civilian losses were immense. These sacrifices must never be forgotten,: Helen Clark said.
For many of the veterans, this was their first visit back to Korea since hostilities ended in 1953. Then, they left a country that was completely destroyed from war. Today, their stories resound with a similar theme. The have discovered a country vastly different than they left 50 years ago.
South Koreans, Helen Clark said “have lifted their country from poverty to high levels of development and prosperity”.
“But it is an armistice, not a peace settlement. Here at Panmunjom, we see the Demilitarised Zone still separating the forces on both sides, as it has since 1953.”
South Korea soldiers eye-ball their Northern counterparts today at the border at Panmunjom.
Certainly, for many kilometres south side of the border, barbed wire, sight towers, soldiers and weapons stand ready to protect South Korea form a North invasion.
The United States military runs the show. Young armed G.Is and their command officers direct proceedings policing security and protocol.
There they stand south of the line, eye-balling their Northern counterparts. Electronic eye telescopes peer about the observation area. With high powered binoculars and cameras, the North Koreans peer back.
The tension, yes you could cut it with a knife.
One U.S. soldier said to me: “I’ve been here at the border for 13 months. Man I am looking forward to getting back to Chicago.”
“They watch us, and we watch them. Yesterday, their were 13 North Korean soldiers up one tower!”
“But today,” the young soldier said “they are playing it very low key.”
Fresh from talks with former United States Secretary Of State Henry Kissinger, South Korea’s President Roh Moo-hyun, and seventh ranked member of the Chinese Government, Mr Li Chang Chun, Clark warned how fragile peace on the Korean Peninsula is.
“At this time, however, North Korea’s proclaimed nuclear programme poses a very critical challenge. The world community is making it very clear to North Korea that its development of nuclear weapons is provocative and unacceptable.
“The strong message to North Korea, as to any other proliferator, is that it should abandon nuclear weapons and any other weapons of mass destruction,” Helen Clark said.
Yesterday, she emerged from a 45 minute meeting with Henry Kissinger, favouring China to open the door to talks with North Korea.
Yesterday, Kissinger said: “We shouldn't present it as if China was being involved in this to do a favour to other countries. The challenge is to find a method and approach in which China's interests are as involved as ours."
But Clark remains resolute that China is best positioned to broker dialogue with North Korea.
Today Clark said: “Co-operation with the international community is the only certain route to security and economic development for North Korea.
“It is our earnest hope that the current tensions can be resolved peacefully and speedily by all the parties involved,” she said.
Her comments rested on those who came to honour a delicate but enduring end to war on the Korean Peninsula. As the sole leader attending the anniversary, she spoke on behalf of the United Nations and those countries that took part in the Korean War.
“I am sure that I speak for all members of the United Nations represented here today, when I say we want to see North Korea emerge from isolation and participate as a normal member of the international community.
“We hope North Korea will seize the opportunity to bring this about. But until it does, the Armistice arrangements will continue to have a key role in maintaining security and stability…
“Through dialogue and reconciliation, we all hope that a final settlement can be reached to bring lasting peace and prosperity to all Koreans,” Helen Clark said.