South Korea's defense chief on Monday hailed the sacrifice made by UN Command UNC troops during the 1950-53 Korean War ahead of the inaugural defense ministerial meeting with the member states of the multinational command tasked with overseeing the conflict's armistice.
Defense Minister Shin Won-sik made the remark at a reception for representatives of the member states in southern Seoul, as South Korea seeks to deepen ties with the command's 17 member states through the ministerial meeting on Tuesday.
"The Republic of Korea was able to overcome the wounds of the war and rise again due to the noble sacrifice and devotion of (UNC) troops and the support from the participating countries," Shin said. "The discussions in the meeting will serve as the precious foundation for the peace and stability of the member states beyond the Korean Peninsula."
US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, who attended the event, called the gathering an "important show of strength" from the international community.
"I look forward to our discussions tomorrow where we can chart our path forward for continuing cooperation among our countries," Austin said. "Your participation today is an important show of strength from the international community."
Earlier in the day, Shin said the Tuesday session will discuss ways to strengthen interoperability between South Korea and the UNC, and exchange views on possibly expanding the command to include other "like-minded" countries, in a press conference after holding talks with Austin.
The UNC was established in July 1950 under a UN mandate to support South Korea against North Korea's aggression the previous month.
Some 1.98 million personnel from 22 countries were dispatched to help South Korea during the war, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty. More than 40,000 of them died, with 3,950 others missing, according to veterans ministry data.
The current UNC member states are the United States, Britain, Canada, Turkey, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, the Netherlands, Colombia, Greece, Belgium, France, South Africa, Norway, Denmark and Italy.
During the event, the defense ministry and the JoongAng Ilbo, a local newspaper, presented the Paik Sun-yup ROK-US Alliance Award to the late US Army Col. Kim Young-oak in recognition of his service in the Korean War.
Paik Sun-yup is a late Korean War hero, who led key battles during the conflict. ROK stands for South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea.
Kim became the first battalion commander of Asian descent in the US military during the war and received the Taegeuk Order or Military Merit from South Korea two months before his death in December 2005.