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Blue House hit over Memorial Day Kim photos

Parents of soldiers received pictures of North Korean leader

June 08,2019
The Moon Jae-in administration is facing fierce criticism after distributing pamphlets containing photos of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to the families of soldiers killed by the North.

Moon hosted a luncheon at the Blue House on Tuesday for about 260 patriots and veterans as well as families of fallen soldiers ahead of the Memorial Day on Thursday. Among the guests were surviving family members of the sailors of the South Korean warship Cheonan, which was torpedoed by the North in March 2010, and soldiers killed by the North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010.

The Blue House also invited families of the sailors killed during the inter-Korean naval skirmish in June 2002. The second Yeonpyeong maritime battle began when a North Korean patrol boat opened fire at a South Korean boat in the Yellow Sea. Family members of soldiers who were killed during the 1950-53 Korean War were also invited to the event.

Moon promised that the administration will spend more money to improve benefits for the fallen soldiers, policemen and firefighters at the event. However, the Blue House faced snowballing criticisms for handing out booklets prompting Moon’s major policies, as two of the photos included in the pamphlets portrayed Moon’s meeting with Kim.

One photo showed Moon, Kim and their wives at the Cheonji crater lake on Mount Paektu during Moon’s visit to the North in September last year. Another showed the four of them standing together at a stadium in Pyongyang when Moon gave a speech to the North Korean people.

“I wanted to storm out of the room immediately, but I couldn’t,” said Kim Han-na, the widow of late master sergeant Han Sang-guk, who was killed during the 2002 naval skirmish, told the JoongAng Ilbo on Friday over the phone. “After I left the Blue House, I threw up several times.”

Lee Seong-wu, head of the association representing the families of the 46 fallen sailors from the Cheonan, also told the JoongAng Ilbo that he was disturbed.

“It was the first time that Moon invited the surviving families of the Cheonan,” he said. “And it was upsetting to see the photos of Kim Jong-un.”

Conservative opposition parties also joined in the criticism.

“After inviting the mother of a soldier who was killed by the Yeonpyeong Island shelling and a widow of a fallen sailor from the inter-Korean naval skirmish, the Blue House distributed leaflets that included photos of Moon and Kim holding their hands,” said Rep. Na Kyung-won of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP).

The LKP spokesman, Rep. Kim Kyung-wook, also issued a statement criticizing the Blue House.

“The families of the soldiers during the Korean War, Cheonan’s sinking and the inter-Korean naval skirmish had no choice but to experience agony and pain after receiving the leaflets,” he said. “Why did the Blue House hand out the photos of the president, smiling next to the offspring of a war criminal, to the surviving families of the war heroes who sacrificed their lives?”

Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the Bareunmirae Party also criticized the insensitivity of the Blue House.

“The president should have considered the wounds of the Korean soldiers’ families first,” Ha said.

The Blue House tried to calm the rage by saying that the booklets were not intended to upset the victims’ families.

“They are routinely handed out to the guests of the presidential luncheons and dinners,” said a Blue House official. “We are offering them as souvenirs to the guests.”

“We hope they will understand that Moon had the inter-Korean summits in order to prevent any more sacrifices of our people,” the official said. “We will work hard to make sure that the victims’ families won’t feel upset.”

This is the second time that the presidential luncheon created controversy. When the Blue House gave an initial briefing about the event on Tuesday, presidential spokesperson Ko Min-jung did not make public that a guest had urged Moon to demand an apology from North Korea for the Korean War.

Kim Seong-taek, son of the late Kim Jae-gwon, a soldier who died during the Korean War, said he told President Moon that the North must apologize.

“Even if the South will offer aid to the North, we need to receive an apology first,” he told Moon. Moon did not give any specific response to his comment, and the Blue House omitted Kim’s remark when it gave the initial press briefing.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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