Western leaders commemorate Korean War dead

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Western leaders including US President Barack Obama on Thursday commemorated their nations' dead in the 1950-1953 Korean War during sombre ceremonies on the anniversary of the end of World War I.

The prime ministers of Australia, Britain and Canada, joined by France's economy minister representing President Nicolas Sarkozy, took part in a joint remembrance event ahead of a summit of G20 nations starting Thursday in Seoul.

Obama, on the US holiday of Veterans Day, laid a wreath of roses at Seoul's Yongsan War Memorial in honour of the 37,000 US troops who died fighting for the UN-led coalition against communist allies China and North Korea.

Watched by hundreds of US personnel serving in South Korea and war veterans, Obama stood with his hand on his heart, eyes closed, during a 21-gun salute which was followed by a bugler playing the mournful US military tune "Taps".

After walking back down the stone stairs from the semi-circular war memorial, the president greeted about a dozen elderly veterans lining the path.

One handed him a hardback copy of Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope", which the US commander-in-chief signed.

The bloody war ground to a stalemate that entrenched the division between communist North and capitalist South Korea, which are still technically in conflict as no peace treaty was ever reached.

British leader David Cameron, Australia's Julia Gillard and Stephen Harper of Canada, joined by French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde, attended their own ceremony at the Korean National War Memorial in Seoul.

The quartet laid wreaths at the memorial, which honours the total of 780,000 troops killed fighting on the UN side, including the US and South Korean dead.

November 11 -- the anniversary of the end of World War I in 1918 -- is the annual day of remembrance in Western countries to honour all their war dead.

Bob Huyton, 79, from Telford in central England, was a 19-year-old on military service when he served in Korea helping to transport the wounded back from the frontlines to Seoul.

"It was a tough war," he recalled. "We were caught up in two ambushes and I lost one of my best friends.

"I've been meaning to come back for a long time, and it's been very emotional. You'd hardly recognise it was the same country, it's changed so much, but all the memories come flooding back," Huyton said.

In an earlier address to US troops, Obama declared that the war was not a draw but was in fact a victory for the anti-communist forces, contrasting South Korea's economic miracle with North Korea's deep isolation.

Cameron attended a separate remembrance ceremony at the site north of Seoul of a brutal Korean War battle in which scores of British troops died trying to hold back a massive communist offensive.

Speaking later at the start of a meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, Cameron said the trip to "Gloster Valley" at Solma-ri had offered "a reminder of the very close links between our countries".

© 2010 AFP

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