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Will PM break his Afghan silence on Remembrance Day?

It is already Remembrance Day in Seoul, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper is visiting to take part in two days of G20 meetings.

But before the economic talks begin Thursday, he will join top British, Australian, French and South Korean officials to mark Remembrance Day at a Korean War Memorial.

The fighting ran from 1950-1953 at the height of the Cold War. A United Nations force sided with the South to defend against better-armed communists in the Soviet-occupied North.

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The civil war - which even to this day is only at a ceasefire - could have been much worse. There were serious concerns, including from Canadians at the time, that the tactics and rhetoric of U.S. General Douglas MacArthur would trigger a third world war should China intervene on behalf of the North.

Canada contributed about 22,000 soldiers, as well as air and sea support. More than 516 Canadians died in the Korean War. Throughout the 60th anniversary, the Korean government has posted videos and posters across the country that specifically single out Canada's contribution for thanks.

Yet Canada's large contribution came only after pressure from the Americans. Initially, Canada only pledged three destroyers and an air-transport squadron. Opposition parties also pressured prime minister Louis St. Laurent to expand Canada's contribution.

One question hanging over the event is when Mr. Harper will break his silence on a modern day decision of Canadian troop deployment in response to U.S. pressure.

Mr. Harper has yet to comment on his government's decision to consider leaving troops in Afghanistan beyond the planned 2011 pull-out date to help train the Afghan army. The move was announced by Defence Minister Peter MacKay on Sunday and confirmed by Mr. Harper's spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, this week.

Critics complain that leaving troops behind, even in a training capacity, would be a complete reversal of clear comments made by Mr. Harper himself, as recently as this year, ruling out any kind of Canadian military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2011.

Yet Mr. Harper has been quiet on the issue. The Prime Minister did not take any questions at a Winnipeg event Tuesday, even though it was to announce a cross-Canada listening tour in advance of the 2011 budget.

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The team of Ottawa-based reporters travelling with the Prime Minister to the G20 summit were kept at the airport while Mr. Harper made the stop in Winnipeg, where a federal by-election is under way.

So far, Mr. Harper's team has yet to schedule a question and answer session with reporters at the G20. The Prime Minister will have to decide soon whether he will explain Canada's new position on Afghanistan on Remembrance Day.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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