President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday he will push for the recovery of the remains of fallen soldiers in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the Koreas in line with the improvement of ties with the North.
In his address at the 63rd Memorial Day ceremony at the National Cemetery in Daejeon, he expressed hopes that the fresh detente will pave the way for inter-Korean joint efforts to account for tens of thousands of service members still listed as missing in action from the 1950-53 Korean War.
"We will continue efforts to recover the remains of military and police members who fell during the Korean War until we find the last remaining person," the commander in chief said.
"When South-North relations improve, we will push for the recovery of the remains in the DMZ first of all. We will also be able to retrieve the remains of U.S. and other foreign soldiers who participated in the war."
Troops from 16 countries fought for South Korea under the United Nations flag during the conflict.
The government estimates that some 10,000 South Korean troops and 2,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in the DMZ, a 4-kilometer-wide and 250-kilometer-long buffer zone.
During the three-year war, about 137,800 South Korean soldiers were killed and 25,000 went missing, according to the Ministry of National Defense's records. Some 40,670 international servicemen were also killed and 4,100 went missing.
In November 2007, the two Koreas' defense chiefs agreed to jointly excavate the remains from the heavily fortified border barrier. It was not implemented because of ensuing tensions between the two sides.
During a historic summit on April 27, President Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un promised to push for peaceful use of the DMZ.
The MIA recovery could be discussed during a general-level military meeting between the two countries to be held on June 14, a ministry official said.
"To begin the excavation mission, prior work should be done, including the removal of land mines from the DMZ, which requires certain processes between the militaries of the South and North," he said.
President Moon Jae-in pays tribute to an Army sergeant who was killed during the Korean War at the National Cemetery in Daejeon on June 6, 2018, to mark the 63rd Memorial Day. (Yonhap)President Moon Jae-in pays tribute to an Army sergeant who was killed during the Korean War at the National Cemetery in Daejeon on June 6, 2018, to mark the 63rd Memorial Day. (Yonhap)
Before the official Memorial Day ceremony, the president visited the graveyard of fallen solders without families at the cemetery in Daejeon, some 160 kilometers from Seoul. Accompanied by his wife and officials, he laid a wreath at the tomb of an Army sergeant who was killed on an eastern battlefield in May 1953.
In his second Memorial Day address as president, Moon also pledged to boost efforts to honor veterans and patriots and support their bereaved families.
He noted the government budget for veterans affairs has surpassed 5 trillion won (US$4.7 billion) this year for the first time. The government has increased special allowances for living patriotic heroes by 50 percent and will open new nursing hospitals and rehabilitation facilities for them in major cities, he added.
Moon also said the restoration of the command headquarters of Korean independence war troops will be completed by April 2019, the 100th year of the foundation of the Korean provisional government in exile during Japan's colonial rule from 1910-45. The facility is located in Chongqing, southwest China.
On Tuesday, Moon hosted a lunch meeting with some 200 national heroes, war veterans and their families at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae. The meeting was also attended by the bereaved families of two school teachers killed in the tragic Sewol ferry sinking in April 2014.