Speech at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan

Speech by Jan Peter Balkenende at the war victims’ remembrance ceremony at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan, 29 April 2010

Honoured veterans, ladies and gentlemen,

Today, the official funeral takes place of the 46 crew members of the Navy ship Cheonan. They and their families are in our thoughts today. As I expressed yesterday to President Lee, the Netherlands shares the sorrow and pain of the Korean people. This dreadful tragedy reminds us that serving the cause of peace and freedom often goes hand in hand with great danger and serious risk.

Being here at this cemetery today reminds us of that as well. Willi de Vries, a Dutch veteran of the Korean War, once said, 'Surely I will go to heaven when I die, for I have been in hell already.' He survived his deployment to Korea; 121 Dutch soldiers did not, and four have been missing ever since.

The stories of the men laid to rest in this cemetery testify to bad luck and incredible bravery. They are stories of soldiers fighting for freedom, whatever the circumstances. We remember Private Ketting Olivier, whose unit stormed the enemy position in the infamous battle of hill 325. He was the first inside, and he paid with his life. We also remember the leadership of Lieutenant-Colonel Den Ouden, who always led his men from the front and who died at Hoengseong. Their names are among the many who paid the ultimate price. We honour them, and we honour the ROKS, the Republic of Korea soldiers, who fought alongside them and shared their faith in the cause of freedom. When the free world asked for a sacrifice, these brave men were ready. It is now our obligation to remember and to honour their sacrifice.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This year we commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War. There is still no official peace, and the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea is a scar that separates families from their loved ones, rich from poor, and democracy from dictatorship. I was there this morning and I want to say that I could feel the dark shadows of the past all around me.

This experience again underlines the importance of memorial services like today's. They focus our minds on the suffering caused by war and aggression, past and present. And they serve as a platform for involving young people in remembrance and keeping history alive.

So today we turn to the past and honour the victims from all the nations represented here. But we also voice our support for and gratitude to the men and women who have risked their lives since then to promote peace and security all over the world. We honour those who have defended freedom and justice in the past, and we honour those who do so today. These soldiers, who include Korean and Dutch troops, are not fighting for territory or spoils of war. They are fighting to protect those who need our protection, to help those who need our support and to bring peace where there is conflict.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank those who made today's remembrance ceremony possible. Thank you for offering us this peaceful location to remember our war victims and to reflect on the suffering caused by armed conflicts all over the world.

May I ask you to join me in one minute's silence to honour the memory of all the men, women and children who suffered and died in the Korean War and in memory of the 46 crew members of the Navy Ship Cheonan.

Thank you.