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Special report: Pyongyang marks Korean War ‘victory’
North Korea’s Kim Jong-un inaugurated a cemetery dedicated to heroes of the Korean War in Pyongyang Thursday ahead of the 60th anniversary of the end of the conflict. Foreign media were given rare access to the secretive country to witness the event.
FRANCE 24 was among a handful of international media granted rare access to North Korea Thursday as the country’s leader Kim Jong-un opened a new cemetery for those who died in the Korean War.
Thousands of war veterans and families gathered to witness the inauguration of the cemetery on the outskirts of the capital Pyongyang, opened as part of celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War on July 27, 1953.
The cemetery contains roughly a thousand graves belonging to veterans and civilian victims of the three-year conflict, whose remains were brought to the hillside location from their former resting places around the country.
Each grave features a portrait of the person buried there while a text written by revered former leader Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, has been engraved in a stone monument, proclaiming that “these martyrs and heroes will be remembered in times to come by future generations”.
Following the opening ceremony, which saw Kim Jong-un cut a red ribbon and lay a wreath at a statue of a giant stone rifle barrel pointing towards the sky, members of the watching crowd began filtering through the rows of graves in search of their relatives.
“Thousands of people have walked from the centre of Pyongyang to be here today to celebrate their heroes,” said FRANCE 24’s James André, reporting from Pyongyang. “It’s important to note that most people in Korea lost somebody during this war.”
‘60 years after his death, I get to see my father's eternal image’
The invited guests were also permitted to speak to the media and, in a country where nearly all statements made to foreign journalists are heavily monitored by government officials, most were quick to express their thanks to Kim Jong-un for the construction of the cemetery.
One man, crying as he stood over the grave of his father, told FRANCE 24: “At last, 60 years after his death, I get to see my father's eternal image. I am thankful to Marshall Kim Jong-un for this!”
Another added: “Through this inauguration event, I can feel the love Kim Jong-un expresses to the war martyrs.”
The inauguration of the cemetery is just one in a series of events taking place in North Korea over the coming days as part of the anniversary celebrations, which will culminate in a massive military parade in Pyongyang on Saturday.
Despite largely resulting in stalemate, the end of the Korean War, which pitted China and Soviet-backed North Korea against the US-supported South, is celebrated each year as “Victory Day” in North Korea, while the conflict itself is referred to as the "Fatherland Liberation War".
As part of the celebrations, the streets of Pyongyang have been decorated with flags, posters and banners bearing nationalistic slogans.
“The authorities here in Pyongyang do not give any official figures as to how many North Koreans died during the conflict, estimates say it could be around 200,000,” said André. “But one sure thing is that here on Saturday it is a victory that will be celebrated.”