The US and its Korean War allies will remember the dead on both sides in what many have dubbed the "Forgotten War" tomorrow, the 50th anniversary of the Armistice Agreement that ended three years of bitter fighting.
US-led UN forces fought Chinese-backed North Korea from soon after the North's attack on June 25, 1950 until July 27, 1953, when a truce took hold on what is still a divided peninsula facing a fresh crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons ambitions.
That truce has never been translated into a peace treaty, meaning the two Koreas remain technically at war although separated by the world's most fortified frontier -- the 240km long, 4km wide Demilitarized Zone.
On Sunday, some 1,500 veterans and 200 dignitaries from South Korea and the 16 countries that made up the UN force will attend a ceremony at Panmunjom in the DMZ, across which nearly 2 million soldiers have faced off for decades.
"At the same time that we commemorate the actual end of a very bitter and unpleasant war we also hope that it might have a more durable and permanent settlement," New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark told reporters yesterday after meeting South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun. Clark will deliver tomorrow's main speech.
The US-led UN Command said it would honor all veterans.
"This event is about the solemnness of the signing of the Armistice," said US Brigadier-General Tom Kane this week.
The North -- which has not been invited to the event but whose soldiers will watch it closely -- has described it as "a very dangerous act." It plans its own ceremonies in Pyongyang to mark what it sees as its victory in a war that cost more than half a million military lives and killed many more civilians.
In the UN-run Joint Security Area at the heart of the DMZ, veterans will see a monument unveiled, an arrow curving toward the now off-limits hut where US Lieutenant-General William Harrison and North Korean General Nam-il signed the armistice at 10am as sun broke through dark clouds.
"Without a word or a sign, the two men went through the formalities, while in the distance the crump of guns went on," wrote Britain's Max Hastings in his book The Korean War. "By 10:12am, it was all over. Still without a word, the two men got up and departed through their allotted exits. It was done."
Twelve hours later the armistice took effect. Fighting continued right up to the deadline. There was relief rather than rejoicing, and many South Koreans were angry, not least arch-conservative President Syngman Rhee.
To mark the truce, veterans will attend a wreath-laying and gun salute at the main US base in Seoul.
China declined an invitation to attend tomorrow's events and the Russian ambassador was otherwise engaged.
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