New tensions mark armistice’s 57th anniversary
The armistice that ended the bloody, three-year Korean War marked its 57th anniversary yesterday as escalating tensions between the two Koreas underscored the vulnerability of a cease-fire treaty that was supposed to be temporary.
Several commemorations were held in South Korea and the United States with a background of ratcheted-up rhetoric from North Korea and joint Seoul-Washington military drills that climaxed with an anti-submarine war game yesterday.
The U.S.-led UN Command, which signed the armistice with North Korea, held a re-enactment of the signing at the truce village of Panmunjom. At the event, Walter Sharp, head of the UN Command, reiterated that the sinking of South Korea’s Cheonan warship in March - which a Seoul-led multinational investigation blamed on the North - is a “clear violation of the Armistice,” which suspended all hostilities. A total of 46 South Korean sailors on the Cheonan were killed.
Sharp stressed that the Cheonan sinking was only one of many violations of the armistice by the North. UN Command data showed the North violated the armistice 425,271 times through April 1994. The North withdrew from the Military Armistice Commission, which oversees the treaty, on May 24, 1994, but has kept open a dialogue channel with the UN Command through the Panmunjom Mission of the Korean People’s Army.
The North observed the day with customary belligerence.
During a speech at an event in Pyongyang marking the anniversary, Kim Yong-chun, vice chief of the National Defense Commission of North Korea, warned against “vicious challenge against the Republic [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is the official name of North Korea] from the United States and its followers.”
Kim described current tensions on the peninsula as a “touch-and-go situation” and blamed it on “provocative actions” by the South and the U.S.
Entering into the third day of its four-day joint military drill “Invincible Spirit,” aimed at protesting the Cheonan sinking, Seoul and Washington dropped anti-submarine bombs in the sea off the east coast. Around 20 warships, including the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier U.S.S. George Washington, and 8,000 servicemen are mobilized in the drill.
Some critics expressed doubt over whether the armistice can hold up, much less be upgraded into a peace treaty.
The armistice currently is maintained through general-level meetings between North Korea and the UN Command, which have been held 16 times since 1998.
The two sides held two lower-level meetings early this month to arrange a general-level meeting to talk about the Cheonan, but whether a general-level meeting will be scheduled remains unclear as the North continues to deny its involvement in the Cheonan sinking. A spokesman for the UN Command said a third working-level meeting will be held as early as this week.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama released a statement commemorating the signing of the armistice Monday, saying the alliance between the U.S. and South Korea is rooted in shared sacrifice. Nearly 180,000 soldiers were killed in the Korean War, including more than 36,500 Americans.
By Moon Gwang-lip [firstname.lastname@example.org]