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By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, July 26 (Yonhap) -- Canada's minister of veterans affairs said Friday his country is proud to have fought under the United Nations flag during the Korean War and have helped South Koreans stand on their feet, pledging continuous efforts to honor the services and sacrifices of veterans.
Julian Fantino led a Canadian delegation of senior government officials and 10 veterans to South Korea to attend ceremonies commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War and signing an Armistice Agreement.
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950 and the active fighting ended on July 27, 1953, with the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement, leaving the two Koreas still divided.
The day is also meaningful in Canada as it has newly established "Korean War Veterans Day" and prepared various events to honor their contributions on the day.
"It's gratifying for us to know that the sacrifices that Canadians have made are not taken for granted and not forgotten in South Korea," Fantino said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency at the War Memorial of Korea.
On the eve of the 60th anniversary, Fantino attended a ceremony at the museum to unveil a monument with other veterans, which is dedicated in honor of the Canadian soldiers who fought in the war.
Canada dispatched approximately 27,000 soldiers to South Korea, the third largest number of combat forces among 21 Allied Forces. A total of 516 Canadian servicemen were killed in combat and the bodies of 378 now lie at the U.N. Memorial Cemetery in the southern port city of Busan.
"It's a win-win situation. What happened 60 years ago is a long time, but they still have these kinds of remembering ceremonies and a commemorative ceremony 60 years later," Fantino said. "It speaks a lot about not only Canadian people, but also it speaks a lot about people in South Korea, which we are grateful as well."
Fantino said he could clearly see joy and excitement of accompanying veterans when they saw a prosperous country with free democracy.
"What they have not lost is their memory, commitment, the respect for people in Korea," Fantino said. "You can see their pride and steps the way they stand tall. They are highly rewarded from this experience. They are really happy to be here."
Impressed by the progress South Korea has made in those years, Fantino felt sorry for North Koreans who are suffering from an oppressive political system.
"It's sad that people in North Korea, 60 years after the conflict, are still being victimized by a regime that is not in keeping with an intelligent leadership," Fantino said.
Fantino condemned North Korea's recent saber-rattling and provocations, saying his government is committed to work with other U.N. members to monitor Pyongyang and push forward the sanctions imposed for its third nuclear test and other banned missile activities.
"We will continue to deliver the message that there is a better way and the free world expects different kinds of conduct," he said.
The veterans affairs minister said his organization plays an active role to honor services and contributions of veterans who fought in two World Wars, Korea and most lately Afghanistan. After soldiers are released from their active service, the ministry helps them find jobs, support their family and connect to each other through various commemorative events.
"The Ministry of Veterans Affairs is a busy ministry and has an important mandate," he said. "I'm very honored to be part of that."
Fantino said he would like to see the two Koreas reach an agreement to ease the tension on the Korean Peninsula so as to promote regional peace and stability.
"We welcome and push for any opportunity toward lasting peace where nations can live in mutual respect," he said. "We would support any initiative, in the end, to lessen any apparent saber-rattling from North Korea. We will support any activity, any process that will in essence create much more peace in this part of the world."
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