Seoul to send face masks to foreign veterans of Korean War

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Seoul (AFP)

South Korea will provide one million face masks to foreign veterans of the Korean War to express gratitude on the 70th anniversary of the brutal conflict, Seoul officials said Thursday.

The 1950-53 Korean War, when South Korean forces backed by a US-led UN coalition fought to a standstill against North Korean and Chinese troops, ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Nearly two million soldiers and medical officers from 22 UN member states -- including the US, Britain and Turkey -- took part, with 37,902 killed and 103,460 wounded, according to the Seoul government.

The South has since risen from the ashes of war to become the world's 12th largest economy and its handling of the coronavirus outbreak -- based on an extensive "trace, test and treat" programme -- has drawn widespread praise.

"All of the 22 countries are currently having difficulties due to the coronavirus, and it is an urgent matter to provide face masks for the ageing war veterans -- whose average age is 88 -- who are vulnerable to the disease," Seoul's Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs said in a statement.

The masks were a symbol of Seoul's gratitude for "the service it received 70 years ago", it added.

The project received special government approval as the South currently imposes export restrictions on face masks to prevent possible shortages.

Half of the masks will go to the US, Seoul's major security ally, which provided 90 percent of the coalition troops.

In most countries, South Korean embassies will be responsible for distributing the masks to the estimated 400,000 surviving veterans.

"We have different plans for each and every country, but one of the plans involves our embassy staff delivering the masks to each veteran's home -- as long as that's arrangeable," Jang Young-nam, a ministry official, told AFP.