Ordinary folk can send condolences to the North

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Ordinary folk can send condolences to the North

The Ministry of Unification yesterday announced it will allow any civilian or private organization to send a message of condolence to North Korea following the death of leader Kim Jong-il, but they have to be registered with the ministry.

Paying respects to the dead North Korean leader is a politically sensitive issue in South Korea, especially since liberal activists tried to cross the border in 1994 to attend the funeral of founding leader Kim Il Sung, causing a conflict with authorities.

“When it comes to sending messages of condolence, we will basically approve it,” the ministry’s spokesperson Choi Boh-seon told reporters. “Under the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act, preapproval from the Unification Ministry is required to send a condolence message to the North via fax or post.”

Unelected civil servants are not allowed to send messages. The ministry said the messages can’t condemn the governments of North or South Korea.

So far, four private organizations have applied to send letters, Choi said: Hyundai Asan, the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation, the North-South Gangwon-do Exchange and Cooperation Committee and the All-Korean Committee for Implementation of the June 15 Joint Declaration.

The government will not send a delegation to the North for Kim’s funeral and won’t allow other South Koreans to go with the exception of the families of the late former President Kim Dae-jung and the late Hyundai Group Chairman Chung Mong-hun. North Korea sent representatives to both of those men’s funerals.

Choi said Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, Chung’s widow, has applied to lead a delegation, but the late President Kim’s widow Lee Hee-ho hasn’t expressed her wishes yet.

Two private organizations, the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation and the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice, asked to send delegations, but the ministry turned them down.

Ruling Grand National Party Representative Park Geun-hye nixed the idea of sending a delegation from the National Assembly.

As North Korea officially announced that it won’t accept any foreign delegations to Kim’s funeral, reporters asked the Unification Ministry’s Choi if North Korea will accept the delegations of the two families.

“When Kim Il Sung died, North Korea issued the same announcement rejecting foreign delegation, but they accepted [foreign delegations] during the mourning period,” Choi said. “But we still haven’t received any notice.”

When North Korean founder Kim Il Sung died in 1994, the South Korean government banned private delegations from going to the North and didn’t send an official delegation. The government clashed with liberal activists who tried to cross the border. Left-wing university students erected mourning altars on local campuses and authorities demolished them.

Then North Korea issued a statement saying it would “politely invite South Korean delegations with brotherhood.” When the South Korean government maintained its prohibition, Pyongyang got furious and called the authorities in Seoul “ugly creations worse than animals.”

Kim died 17 days before a planned summit with then-Korean President Kim Young-sam. The good relations between the Koreas immediately soured.

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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