Key calls for peace in Korean Peninsula

Last updated 15:18 27/07/2013

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John Key has called on North Korea to work towards peace on the Korean Peninsula in a major ceremony to mark 60 years of ceasefire. 

Around 4000 people sat crowded under a giant temporary gazebo in front of the National War Memorial in Seoul to mark the anniversary of the uneasy armistice. 

Mr Key, here with a delegation of 30 Kiwi veterans, spoke on behalf of the 21 nations who contributed troops or medical support in the three year war. 

Officially the armistice represents only a temporary end to hostilities, not an end to the war, and Mr Key acknowledged the peninsula remained divided. 

"We urge North Korea to work constructively with the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the international community for peace on the Korean Peninsula," Mr Key said, having been applauded for greeting the crowd in Korean.

Mr Key has made at least two diplomatic gaffes on Korea this year, including when he said in April that New Zealand was likely to back South Korea if war broke out with North Korea. The comments were made while he was in China, a traditional ally of North Korea.

On Friday he told the Kiwi veterans that  South Korea's refusal to grant New Zealand a free trade agreement was not fair given the assistance it had provided since it answered a call by the United Nations to assist the country from attack.

One Korean newspaper described the comments as "sharp criticism" although the situation was overshadowed several hours later when the two countries agreed to resume trade talks.

Today Mr Key was gracious in his praise both for the veterans of the Korean War and for modern South Korea.

"The greatest reward for the sacrifices of the South Korean and allied soldiers during the war is the freedom, democracy and prosperity of the Republic of Korea today, a respected member of the international community."

Afterwards Mr Key signaled that while New Zealand would continue to mark the end of the Korean War, this is likely to be the last delegation of its kind to travel to Seoul for celebrations.

"The vets that are traveling with us are in great heart but they're in their early 80s and in reality if we were to come back for the 70th celebrations, sadly, many of them may not be with us."

New Zealand provided about 6000 troops to the Korean War, with 45 killed and 79 wounded.

The efforts of the troops, entering a war in a country which they probably knew almost nothing about, was a mark of how New Zealand saw itself, Mr Key said.

"We often debate about New Zealand's role and place in the world, and what we do, but if you really look back through history, New Zealand has stood up for the rights that we believe in as a country," Mr Key said.

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"We've always done that. Along with that, tragically, we've lost some very brave New Zealanders."

During the commemorations school children sang songs from the nations which contributed to the war, starting with Pokarekare Ana and later, That's what friends are for.

The highly ceremony saw demonstrations by a number of troops in traditional uniforms.

A representative of the United Nations delivered a message on behalf of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, himself a South Korean citizen. His statement acknowledged the situation remained "fragile" but that the organisation remained committed to peace and ultimately, the reunification of the Korean Peninsula.

Asked if he believed there would ever be peace on the Korean Peninsula, Mr Key said "in the context of ever, yes".

Tomorrow Mr Key and the veterans will travel south to Busan, where most of the Kiwis killed are buried in a United Nations cemetery.

- Fairfax Media

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