Emotional day for NZ veterans of the Korean War

SPECIAL DAY: Prime Minister John Key chats to veterans Max Vinten and Charles Sibun.
SPECIAL DAY: Prime Minister John Key chats to veterans Max Vinten and Charles Sibun.

Kiwi veterans of the Korean War have been visiting fallen comrades in ceremonies at the cemetery where most of the New Zealand casualties of the war are buried.

This morning the veterans travelled to Busan, some three hours by bullet train south of Seoul, to the United Nations Memorial Cemetery. Of the 45 New Zealand troops killed in the Korean War, 34 are buried here.

Originally 11,000 troops were buried at the cemetery, but many have been repatriated. Now about 2300 fallen soldiers are buried here from 11 countries.

The veterans, who arrived on Wednesday night have been taking part in commemorations and have visited the demilitarised zone, but today's trip will take them into areas they are more likely to have fought in.

Here they will take part in both a UN ceremony, and one specifically marking New Zealand's contribution.

Prime Minister John Key, who is travelling with the veteran for most of their trip, said today's event was likely to be emotional.

"I think there'll be a huge amount of emotion today. This is the place where 34 New Zealanders are buried at the war memorial there. This is the place where we suffered our casualties. This is where our vets will have almost certainly have been engaged or fought, many of them.

"So I think it will be quite a moving day because we have both the UN ceremony and of course the New Zealand ceremony so I think for a lot of the vets they've already mentioned to me that they aren't exactly sure how they'll respond when they go down there. So it will be a very emotion packed day for them."

New Zealand was one of the first countries to answer a UN call to assist South Korea, following a surprise attack by China-backed North Korea in 1950. Around 6000 Kiwi troops took part in the war between 1950 and 1953.

This week's trip coincides with ceremonies to mark 60 years since the two sides signed an armistice, with the Korean Peninsula still technically in a state of war.

Meanwhile Key this morning declined to offer any further comment on an incident which took place after he took part in an official ceremony to mark the armistice at the Nation War Memorial in Seoul.

A man drove his vehicle, which had pictures or signs of John Key's name taped to the windows, into the back of a bus near where the ceremony took place.

There have been reports that the man's vehicle was packed with gas canisters, however footage of the incident on Korean television made no mention of this.

The ceremony had high levels of security. At least eight members of the New Zealand media were inside the security cordon at the time, however none noticed it was taking place until eye witness accounts emerged. Security forces gave no indication that there was a risk of explosion and there was no sign that anyone was evacuated.

Key revealed yesterday that the man behind the attack was a disgruntled investor, who about a month ago staged a silent, peaceful protest outside the New Zealand Embassy in Seoul.