PANMUNJOM, South Korea, July 27 (Yonhap) -- The new deputy commander of the United Nations Command (UNC) pledged Friday to do all he can to foster a lasting peace on the peninsula, as the command marked the 65th anniversary of the armistice that ceased the Korean War.
During an interview with Yonhap News Agency, Canadian Lieut. Gen. Wayne D. Eyre, the first non-American officer to take the post, said that his UNC stint explains his country's commitment to strengthening ties with South Korea.
"I am very honored and privileged to be here in this role and I will do all that I can to do my small part to bring about a lasting peace," he said on the sidelines of a ceremony he hosted to mark the anniversary at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas.
"My country is very interested in this part of the world. It shows a commitment to improving Korean-Canadian relationships, and that's why my government was very keen for me to take this position," he added.
The UNC, currently led by U.S. Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, oversees the armistice that halted the 1950-53 Cold War conflict. It is the first time since the command's inception in 1950 that a non-American officer took the No. 2 UNC post.
The UNC now comprises representatives from South Korea, the U.S. and 16 other "Sending States," which include Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and France.
Eyre recently arrived in South Korea. His change-of-responsibility ceremony is slated to take place at Camp Humphreys, a sprawling complex in Pyeongtaek, about 70 kilometers south of Seoul, on Monday.
As for his priority task, Eyre mentioned the long-standing UNC role.
"My priority is going to be what the UNC priorities are, which is to maintain the armistice and if necessary to be home for international commitments," he said.
Touching on ongoing peace efforts to denuclearize North Korea and establish a permanent peace regime, he offered a positive assessment.
"Any efforts to deescalate the situation are positive. I am very, very new on the ground here. So I am still developing my assessment of the situation," he said.
Regarding this week's repatriation of the remains of American troops from North Korea, the deputy chief said that his command "facilitated" the process, which many see as a goodwill step to enhance trust between the two Cold War foes.
"The UNC role facilitated the return (of remains) that were brought back under the UNC flag," he said.
During the anniversary ceremony, Eyre also mentioned the repatriation of the remains, saying they were received "with dignity."
"Three hours ago, they arrived and were received with dignity at Osan Air Base and will now continue their onward journey, bringing some measure of closure and peace to the families of the loved ones who have long awaited their return," he said.
"This repatriation is one more step along the way (of) many negotiations and confidence building measures enabled by the UNC working to thaw the years of the mistrust in favor of cooperation and dialogue," he said.
During the speech, he also stressed that his command would not waver in its mission.
"I want to emphasize that the command remains as committed and relevant today as it has been for the last 68 years, and it will not falter in its mission and will do its part to bring about a lasting peace," he said.
In the speech, he also noted that despite the cessation of the war, a lasting peace remained "elusive."
"After long years of war and loss, the Korean War armistice agreement was negotiated and signed, bringing a formal end to the hostilities, but despite guns going silent, an enduring peace remained elusive," he said. "The armed forces from both sides tensely faced off across the DMZ," he added.
The commemoration was attended by 200 people, including foreign diplomats in Seoul and senior officials from the UNC, UNC Military Armistice Commission and the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, which are the pillars of a mechanism to maintain the truce arrangement.
Source: Yonhap News Agency