North marks 60th anniversary of end of Korean War

Gymnasts take part in a  performance in Pyongyang as part of the celebrations to commemorate the end of the Korean War. Picture: Reuters
Gymnasts take part in a performance in Pyongyang as part of the celebrations to commemorate the end of the Korean War. Picture: Reuters
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DESPITE the fact more than 90,000 British soldiers fought in the Korean War, it remains largely forgotten, overshadowed by the Second World War.

The North Koreans, however, have not forgotten the war, in which fighting ceased in 1953. Today, the country is marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the conflict with a celebration for a holiday it calls “Victory Day” – even though the two sides only signed a truce, and have yet to negotiate a peace treaty.

Signs and banners reading “Victory” line the streets of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Events are expected to culminate with a military parade and fireworks, one of the biggest extravaganzas in the ­impoverished country since leader Kim Jong-un took power in late 2011.

At the border in Panmunjom, the war never ended. Both sides of the Demilitarised Zone are heavily guarded, making it the world’s most fortified border, and dividing countless families. The North Koreans consider the presence of 28,500 American troops in South Korea a continued occupation.

In some ways, war today is being waged outside the confines of the outdated armistice signed 60 years ago.

The disputed maritime border off the west coast of the Koreas is a hotspot for clashes. In 2010, a South Korean warship exploded, killing 46 sailors. Seoul blamed a North Korean torpedo. Later that year, a North Korean artillery attack on a frontline South Korean island killed four people, two of them civilians.

Earlier this year, Mr Kim heralded the pursuit of ­nuclear weapons as a national goal, calling it a defensive measure against the United States military threat. In recent months, the warfare has extended into cyberspace, with both Koreas accusing the other of mounting crippling hacking attacks that have taken down government websites in the North and paralysed online commerce in the South.

Sixty years on there is still no peace on the Korean Peninsula – and the two sides do not even agree on who started the war.

Outside the North, historians say it was North Korean troops who charged across the border at the 38th parallel and launched an assault at 4am on 25 June 25, 1950.

North Korea agrees that war broke out at 4am – but says US troops attacked first.

“The real history is that the US started the war on 25 June, 1950,” Ri Su Jong, a 21-year-old guide at a flower show in Pyongyang, said. “They first attacked our country and we quickly ­counterattacked.”

Ms Ri, whose grandfathers both fought in the war, said she was taught that the North ­Koreans marched into Seoul three days later, “liberating” South Korea. A panoramic diorama at the war museum shows soldiers hoisting the North Korean flag in a sea of fire.

How the main players mark the anniversary is a telling indication of how each country views the conflict.

North Korea is treating it as a celebration, an occasion to rally support for the country’s leader.

In South Korea, it’s a day of remembrance. For the government, it is a day of thanks to the 16 United Nations countries that came to South Korea’s defence during the war. For many, it’s also a day of sorrow as they remember family members left behind in the North, forever divided from their loved ones.

In all, the fighting took more than 1.2 million lives. More than 500,000 North Korean troops died, along with 183,000 Chinese who fought alongside them.

On the other side, 138,000 South Koreans were killed, and 40,670 more from the UN-led force, including 1,078 British and 36,900 Americans.