Two decorated US air force veterans who survived one of the worst battles of the Korean War found themselves among former foes at a memorial ceremony in Pyongyang today as the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, launched the commemoration of the war’s end 60 years ago.
It’s unusual for American veterans to attend such events in North Korea. The veterans are in the country on a mission to find the remains of a fellow aviator killed in the war, and were given little notice of the event.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony to open a new cemetery for war veterans was brief and solemn, with no speeches. Soldiers stood to attention as a military band played the national anthem. Mr Kim, dressed in a dark blue Mao suit, saluted and left a basket of flowers bearing a banner with his name at the memorial.
The Korean War, pitting North Korean and Chinese against US-led UN and South Korean forces, ended with an armistice on 27 July 1953. A peace treaty was never signed, leaving the peninsula in a technical state of war.
The North Korean government is expected to use the anniversary – known as Victory Day – to rally support for Kim, who took power following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in late 2011. As leader, he has overseen two long-range rocket launches and a nuclear test; all drew international condemnation and tightened UN sanctions.
In a reminder of the tensions that still plague the peninsula, Pyongyang yesterday threatened to reposition troops at a stalled inter-Korean factory park at a North Korean border town. The warning, which Pyongyang has made before, came after failed talks to reopen the park, which was a rare symbol of co-operation between the rivals before it was shuttered in April.