Steps taken to ease inter-Korean relations as North delegation pays respects
By Yoo Jee-ho
Saturday, Aug 22, 2009
A North Korean delegation to extend condolences for the late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung arrived in Seoul yesterday amid tight security, becoming the first officials from Pyongyang to visit South Korea during the Lee Myung-bak government.
|A delegation from North Korea, led by Kim Ki-nam, second from right with white hair, visited the memorial altar for the late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung yesterday at the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul. It marked the first visit of North Korean officials to Seoul under the Lee Myung-bak administration. [YONHAP]|
Carrying a funeral wreath bearing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s name, the six-member delegation arrived at the memorial altar at the National Assembly in western Seoul at 3:53 p.m. Some South Korean citizens on hand greeted them with applause and chants of “Unification!”
Members of the delegation, led by a secretary from the ruling Workers’ Party, Kim Ki-nam, paid their respects to the former South Korean leader, standing side by side as they held a moment of silence. In June 2000, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il met for the first inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang. Kim Dae-jung received the Nobel Peace Prize later that year.
In the visitors’ book, Kim Ki-nam wrote, “In memory of former President Kim Dae-jung, who left an indelible mark on the people by protecting justice and following his conscience.”
The North Korean officials later exchanged greetings with members of the surviving family and former Kim Dae-jung aides. The delegation then headed inside for a brief meeting with National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyung-o and left the parliamentary building at 4:35 p.m. While talking with the speaker, Kim Ki-nam said he’d like to meet South Korean officials during his stay. “In remembrance of the late president, we have a great deal of work to do as far as improving inter-Korean relations,” he said.
The delegation had arrived at Gimpo International Airport, west of Seoul, at 3 p.m., about 10 minutes ahead of schedule, on a special Air Koryo flight from Pyongyang. The North Koreans were received by Hong Yang-ho, vice unification minister, and Jeong Se-hyun, former unification minister who now serves as vice head of the Kim Dae-jung Peace Center. The delegation is scheduled to depart for Pyongyang at 2 p.m. today, also from Gimpo.
The North Koreans were also greeted at the airport by about 100 conservative South Korean activists protesting the visit. The activists asked for an apology for the detention of four South Korean fishermen, who were caught on July 30 when their boat crossed the maritime border on the east coast.
Prior to the arrival, the South Korean government remained tight-lipped about the delegation’s specific itinerary and imposed strict control on media availability, citing security concerns. Seoul officials tried to quench speculation that the North Koreans would meet with South Korean government figures, including Unification Minister Hyun In-taek. Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said the North never made any request for such a meeting.
The visit came as North Korea continued to display conciliatory gestures toward South Korea. Late Thursday night, Pyongyang said effective yesterday, it would reopen a cross-border railway and would temporarily restore a hotline between the Red Cross agencies of both Koreas. The Kaesong-based office handling inter-Korean economic exchanges would also resume activities, North Korea added.
These moves followed the North’s announcement that it would lift restrictions on cross-border land passage for South Koreans.
The Gyeongeui rail line had been shut down since last Dec. 1 as part of a series of restrictive measures taken by North Korea in response to Seoul’s cut of North-bound aid. In a symbolic move, the cross-border railway had been reconnected for cargo trains in 2007, more than half a century after it was severed during the Korean War.
Under the Dec. 1 actions, South Koreans and their vehicles could make only three cross-border trips per day. In the past, 12 trips north of the border and seven southbound trips were permitted each day. The measures also limited the number of South Koreans allowed to stay in Kaesong per day to 880, down from more than 4,000.
The cutbacks damaged South Korean businesses in the Kaesong Industrial Complex, forcing them to either scale back their operations or to leave altogether. The South Korean government yesterday welcomed the North Korean moves. “North Korea’s unilateral actions strained civilian economic cooperation projects and also inter-Korean relations,” Unification Ministry spokesman Chun said. “This must never be repeated.”
But the fate of the South Korean fishermen in detention since late July remained up in the air. Sources said North Korean leader Kim Jong-il told Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun last weekend that he’d already ordered the North Korean military to release the four fishermen.
But Chun said North Korean authorities only told South Korea yesterday that they were “investigating” the issue. Seoul filed an official dispatch to North Korea demanding their release “in a humanitarian move,” Chun added.
See also from The Jakarta Post:
"2 Koreas hold high-level talks; 1st in 2 years"
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