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President Lee pays tribute in Colombia

President Lee Myung-bak’s arrival in Colombia on June 23 marked a historic moment, as both the first visit by a Korean president to the Latin American country and also the last stop on a cross-country tour of wartime allied countries that has been 59 years in the making.

President Lee Myung-bak (left) visits the Korean War memorial in Bogota, Colombia on June 23 (photo courtesy of Cheong Wa Dae).

Ever since the signing of the armistice in 1953, Korean heads of state have begun making their way to the allied nations whose military forces joined with the Republic of Korea during the Korean War.

President Lee himself has visited 13 of the allied nations during his term in office. With this last visit to Colombia, the only Latin American country to send forces to take part in the Korean War, the decades-long journey has come to a meaningful close. Today, all 15 of Korea’s wartime allies, not including Luxembourg, have received an official visit from a Korean head of state.

In Colombia, President Lee paid his respects at the Korean War memorial in the capital city of Bogota on June 23, only two days ahead of the 62-year anniversary of the war’s outbreak.

A total of 21 countries (flags pictured above) came to the aid of the Republic of Korea during the Korean War as part of the United Nations Command. 16 countries sent combat forces and five countries provided humanitarian aid (image courtesy of Cheong Wa Dae).

The memorial is inscribed with the names of 213 Colombian military personnel who lost their lives during the Korean War. The design of the memorial resembles Seokgatap, the stone pagoda that sits within the Bulguksa Temple complex in Gyeongju. The Korean government presented the memorial to the Colombian government in 1973 in a show of gratitude for the friendship and sacrifice of the Colombian people.

The same day, President Lee also met with approximately 200 Colombian Korean War veterans and their families.

The president expressed his gratitude for the sacrifice made by the over 5,000 soldiers who risked their lives to protect peace and freedom on the Korean Peninsula, and offered his condolences to the friends and families of the soldiers who lost their lives during the war.

“The Korean people will never forget your sacrifice, and you will be remembered forever with the deepest gratitude in our hearts,” said President Lee during his welcoming speech.

He also explained the various initiatives that have been developed by the Korean government to provide support for veterans and their families, including invitational programs for veterans to return to Korea as well as scholarship programs for the descendants of veterans.

President Lee also shared the plans that are underway to establish a Korea-Colombia friendship center for the rehabilitation of Korean War veterans and disabled veterans.

First Lady Kim Yoon-ok also attended the dinner, presenting bags, hats, school supplies, and other gifts to six children in attendance.

More information on Korea’s programs and policies regarding veterans can be found at the website of the Ministry of Patriots’ and Veterans’ Affairs:

By Kwon Jungyun Staff Writer

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