2 Koreas mark war anniversary after pause in rising tensions

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A North Korean woman lays a bouquet of flowers during a visit to the Fatherland Liberation War Martyrs Cemetery to pay respects to the monument to the fallen soldiers of the Korean People's Army in Pyongyang, North Korea, Thursday, June 25, 2020. North and South Korea on Thursday marked the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War with largely subdued commemorations amid the coronavirus pandemic, a day after the North abruptly halted a pressure campaign against the South. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)

SEOUL – North and South Korea on Thursday separately marked the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War with largely subdued commemorations amid the coronavirus pandemic, a day after the North abruptly halted a pressure campaign against the South.

South Korea issued a joint statement with the United States, which fought alongside it during the 1950-53 war triggered by a surprise North Korean invasion. The U.S. still stations about 28,500 soldiers in South Korea in what North Korea views as a military threat.

In the statement, South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said they “commit to strengthening and adapting the alliance to meet present and future challenges” and urged North Korea to implement past disarmament pledges.

Jeong and other South Korean military leaders later paid their respects at a national cemetery in Seoul, where about 130,000 war-related dead, mostly South Korean soldiers, are buried or honored.

They were given special permission to enter Seoul National Cemetery, which has imposed entry restrictions amid a resurgence of the coronavirus in recent weeks. The cemetery received about 530,000 visitors in June last year but only about 61,000 this month, according to cemetery officials.

A war museum in Seoul, normally a popular place to visit on the war's anniversary or on Memorial Day on June 6, remained shut Thursday.

In the evening, South Korea held a ceremony with 300 war veterans, bereaved relatives and government officials at a military airport near Seoul. It was far less than the 4,000 people who attended last year, according to Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs.

During the ceremony, President Moon Jae-in said he hopes North Korea will “boldly embark on an endeavor to end the most sorrowful war in world history.” He said the two Koreas must achieve peace first before being able to see the path to reunification.