SEOUL, June 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in called on North Korea Thursday to join a bold move to formally end the Korean War in peace overtures, coupled with a clear warning message, commemorating the conflict that started seven decades ago, with the fragile Korea peace process at stake.
"We cannot commemorate the Korean War in a genuine manner yet. That is because the War has yet to come to an end," he said during a speech at the war anniversary event held at Seoul Air Base, a military compound just southeast of Seoul.
He was pointing out that the three-year war finished in a ceasefire, not a peace treaty, which has left the two Koreas technically at war and repeatedly facing sharp military tensions.
Moon expressed hope that the North will "boldly embark on an endeavor to end the most sorrowful war in world history."
"If we are going to talk about unification, we have to achieve peace first, and only after peace has continued for a long time will we be able to finally see the door to unification," he stressed, addressing the nighttime ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the war.
He reaffirmed that South Korea has no intention to force its system on the communist neighbor and emphasized the importance of building peace first.
"We pursue peace and intend to live well together," he said. "We will continuously search for routes that are mutually beneficial for both Koreas through peace. Before speaking of unification, I hope that we can become friendly neighbors first."
The previous day, the North abruptly announced a decision to suspend "military action plans" against the South, a turnaround from weeks of brinkmanship highlighted by the unilateral severance of all bilateral communications lines and demolition of a joint liaison office.
Many regard the 2018 hard-won military accord between the two sides as virtually nullified. The Kim Jong-un regime's intentions remain unconfirmed.
While South Korea is against a war in pursuit of peace, Moon warned, the North would face a "firm response" in case of threats to the people here.
"Our military has strength to ward off any threat. It has a thorough readiness posture and will never allow even a handspan of our territory on land, sea and in the air to be violated again," he said.
The president added "if anyone threatens our people's safety and lives, we will firmly respond. Our national defense capabilities are strong enough to repel any provocation from any direction."
He cited the steadfast alliance with the United States despite the ongoing process of transferring the wartime operational control of South Korean troops from Washington to Seoul.
"We are meticulously preparing the transfer of wartime operational control. Based on our own strength, we will defend and build peace without fail," he said.
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