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Veterans Gather in Seoul to Mark 50th Anniversary of Korean War Armistice - 2003-07-27

Korean war veterans from more than a dozen countries are in South Korea to remember the armistice that halted the fighting on the peninsula 50 years ago. The commemorations are taking place as the world worries about North Korea's nuclear activities.

More than 1,000 Korean War veterans from around the world gathered at the border area between North and South Korea to mark the 50th anniversary of the pact that ended civil war. The ceremony took place at the Panmunjom truce village in the heart of the Demilitarized Zone, which divides the Korean Peninsula.

As they listened to speeches in heavy rain, the veterans stood meters away from where the armistice was signed five decades ago by the U.S.-led United Nations Command and military leaders from North Korea and China, which had supported its communist ally during the war.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark addressed the veterans, giving tribute to more than 84,000 soldiers serving under the auspices of the United Nations who died in the conflict. She also acknowledged the casualties suffered by North Korea.

Other events include a ceremony at U.S. military headquarters in Seoul to mark the moment the armistice took effect.

Michael Breen is the author of the book, The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies. He says the commemorations allow countries to honor those who fought and died. "People felt for a long time, particularly war veterans, that the Korean War in some way is a forgotten war," he said. "It was a very, very nasty war and there were significant American causalities, 33,000 dead, if I remember rightly. This is the time to highlight a war which a lot of people fought in who are forgotten about. "

The Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to 1953, ended without an outright victory or peace treaty. Under the terms of the armistice, the two sides, which were fighting for dominance of the Korean Peninsula, agreed to suspend hostilities.

The ceremonies occurred as worries escalate about North Korea's nuclear ambitions. A dispute over its nuclear development started in October when U.S. officials said Pyongyang admitted to running a program to make nuclear fuel, violating a bilateral agreement.

It has since restarted nuclear facilities and expelled U.N. inspectors. It also says it has re-processed enough spent nuclear fuel for at least several nuclear bombs.

North Korea is pushing for one-to-one talks with the United States, while Washington, Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing are pressing it to engage in multi-lateral negotiations.

The isolated Stalinist state is believed to be holding its own ceremonies to commemorate the end of the war, which it claims to have won.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has issued a statement honoring the armistice anniversary, appealing to all parties to resolve the crisis and noting that fear and mistrust continue to set the tone on the Korean Peninsula.