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Somber South, celebratory North

As with everything, the two Koreas have entirely different ways of reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the end of their war.

By Associated Press
Published July 27, 2003

[AP photo]
North Koreans attend a ceremony in Pyongyang to mark the 50th anniversary of the armistice, which ended the Korean War.

SEOUL, South Korea - In the five decades since the Korean War, South Korea has blossomed from ruin into a vibrant, wealthy democracy. Totalitarian North Korea has sunk into isolation and poverty, yet its nuclear ambitions make it a source of global anxiety.

The two have never reached a formal peace, so commemorations will be somber today in the South to mark the 50th anniversary of the armistice that ended the war. More than 1,000 war veterans, many from the U.S.-led United Nations force that backed South Korea, will gather at Panmunjom, the truce village where the cease-fire was signed. An evening ceremony will be held at the U.S. military headquarters in Seoul.

North Korea, however, is marking the anniversary with celebrations because its propaganda machine has always described the war as a victory for communist forces, rather than as the stalemate it was. Red banners recalling the North's "triumph" hang prominently in Pyongyang's main square.

In a reminder of the uneasiness that lingers along the world's most heavily armed border, the North's military used characteristically belligerent rhetoric Saturday to warn of the potential for a new war.

North Korea "will promptly beat back any precision strike, surgical operation-style strike and pre-emptive nuclear attack with the powerful war deterrent force," said Kim Yong Chun, chief of the North Korean army's General Staff.

U.S. officials, who believe North Korea has one or two nuclear bombs, are seeking a diplomatic solution to entice the North to give up its nuclear program, and South Korean officials say talks with the North could come in August. But Washington also is keeping up pressure on the North by refusing its demand for a nonaggression pact and has considered stepping up economic sanctions on the impoverished communist nation.

In a statement marking the armistice anniversary, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed for a diplomatic solution.

"Resolving the nuclear and related security issues has got to be the most pressing priority," Annan said. "The 50th anniversary offers an opportunity to disperse the ominous cloud that, for too long, has threatened the stability and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula."

North Korea wants security guarantees and economic aid from the United States, though U.S. officials are skeptical the regime in Pyongyang is willing to give up its nuclear option in return. The nuclear dispute flared in October, when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted having a secret nuclear program in violation of international agreements.

The International Committee of the Red Cross called attention to the plight of families who were separated by the Korean War and have not seen their loved ones since. The two Koreas have held some brief reunions for a few families since relations improved after a summit in 2000.

"In Seoul and in Pyongyang, the seriousness of the problem is acknowledged. The situation of elderly people, in particular, is of urgent concern," a Red Cross statement said. It urged the two Koreas to stage family visits more frequently.

On Saturday, Benjamin Whitchurch and about 70 other British veterans attended a commemorative ceremony at a former battlefield near the mine-laden border with North Korea. Britain fought as a member of the 16-nation U.N. force against China- and Soviet-backed North Korea.

"Pray to God it doesn't happen again," Whitchurch said. "It would be an annihilation."


* President Dwight Eisenhower takes office.

* Julius and Ethel Rosenberg executed.

* Yankees win fifth straight World Series.

* Best Picture: From Here to Eternity.

* Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin dies.

* Church of Scientology founded.

* Queen Elizabeth II crowned.

* First issues of Playboy and TV Guide.

* Corvette debuts.

* Korean War ends.

[Last modified July 27, 2003, 01:33:08]

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