Seoul consoles North’s people

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Seoul consoles North’s people

The Lee Myung-bak administration yesterday offered condolences to the North Korean people for their leader Kim Jong-il’s death, while announcing a ban on South Koreans visiting the communist country to pay respects to the late dictator.

President Lee and his foreign, defense and security ministers held a meeting yesterday afternoon at the Blue House to discuss how South Korea should react to Kim’s death. North Korea announced Monday that Kim had died of a heart attack Saturday.

Following the meeting, Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik announced a government statement.

“The government is sending words of consolation to the people of North Korea over [National Defense Commission] Chairman Kim’s death,” Yu said. “We hope North Korea will regain stability as soon as possible so that the two Koreas can cooperate for the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula.”

The message was addressed to the North Korean people, not the government.

The Lee administration faced divergent views on a condolence message from South Korea’s politicians and civic groups. While conservatives didn’t want the government to send a message of sympathy or a delegation to Pyongyang, liberals said Seoul should do both to improve inter-Korean relations.

Yu said the government will not send an official delegation to North Korea to mourn Kim’s death. The only exception will be the families of the late former President Kim Dae-jung and the late Hyundai Group Chairman Chung Mong-hun because the North had sent delegations in the past to mourn their deaths. Hyundai announced yesterday that Chung’s widow, Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, will go.

Yu said the government will ask religious groups to halt their plans to light Christmas trees along the border since the North is in mourning.

Addressing the South Korean people, Yu said the government is closely cooperating with its ally and neighbors to make sure that Kim’s sudden death won’t disrupt peace on the peninsula. Stressing that the military is preparing for all contingencies, Yu said no abnormal signals had been discerned in the North. He asked South Koreans to remain calm and continue their daily activities.

The government’s position was announced shortly after North Korea broadcast photos of its late leader in a glass coffin decorated with red and white flowers. Korean Central Television aired the report around 3 p.m.

As North Korea continued to mourn the death of its leader of 17 years, it remained to be seen whether other South Koreans will travel North to pay their respects aside from the former first lady, Lee Hee-ho, and Hyun Jeong-eun.

The Roh Moo-hyun Foundation yesterday issued a statement saying it has decided to send a delegation and asked the government for permission.

The ministry said yesterday that it won’t allow the visit and will turn down other requests by religious groups and politicians.

Another liberal civic group, the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, urged the Lee administration to “make a bold decision” and send an official delegation to “take the initiative in the Northeast Asia peace regime in the post-Kim Jong-il era.”

On the other side of the divide, defector groups including the Committee for the Democratization of North Korea yesterday held a press conference and urged the government to refrain from showing grief over Kim’s death.

“If a delegation is sent to mourn his death, we should have sent delegations to mourn the deaths of Hitler and [the late Libyan dictator Muammar el-] Qaddafi,” a spokesman of the committee said.

Right Korea also said yesterday that the death of Kim, a dictator who starved millions of North Koreans to death, is nothing to be sad about.



By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr ]

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