From Seoul to Pyongyang – with a message of peace


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The Independent Online

The widow of the late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung invoked memories of the brightest moment in cross-border relations yesterday as she visited Pyongyang to pay her respects to the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. His third son and heir, Kim Jong-un, stood quietly as the 90-year-old Lee Hee-ho wrote that she hoped "the spirit of the 15 June South-North Joint Declaration [signed by Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il in June 2000] would be carried forward to achieve national reunification as soon as possible".

Her visit was a poignant reminder of the hopes engendered by the summit at which the two leaders agreed "to resolve the question of reunification" of the North and South and "promptly resolve humanitarian issues", notably visits by hundreds of thousands of family members separated by the Korean War.

South Korea's conservative President, Lee Myung-bak, gave permission for Lee Hee-ho and Hyun Jeong-un, widow of the Hyundai executive Chung Mong-hun, who opened special zones for business and tourism in North Korea, to lead a condolence delegations to Pyongyang. But Lee Myung-bak refused to let others go there from the South. Kim Dae-jung, who died in 2009, won the Nobel Peace Prize six months after the summit. Mr Chung committed suicide in 2003 after his indictment for passing enormous bribes to persuade Kim Jong-il to agree to the summit.

For Lee Hee-ho, the journey by road to Pyongyang marked her first visit to North Korea since she flew there with her husband for the summit. Her yearning for a return to her husband's Sunshine Policy is shared by many of her husband's allies and followers, but she avoided bitterness before entering North Korea at the truce village of Panmunjom.

In a statement read by an aide, Lee Hee-ho said: "I hope that our trip to North Korea will help improve relations between South and North Korea."

The Korean Central News Agency said the two widows inscribed their thoughts in a mourners' book. Kim Jong-un thanked them – the first words that he has been known to have uttered to visitors from South Korea. Kim Jong-un was "standing vigil beside the bier with other members of the funeral committee", according to KCNA, when wreaths were laid in their name "amid the playing of solemn music".

In a bid to show the strength and continuity of the regime, North Korea is making a huge issue of condolences. The North 's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea came out with a harsh attack on Sunday on South Korean authorities for denying permission for other South Koreans to go to Pyongyang bearing condolences.

The committee warned that such "obstructions will entail unpredictable catastrophic consequences" and "test the morality of the South Korean authorities" and the "sincerity of their call for improvement of the North-South relations". None of the visitors to Pyongyang will attend the funeral itself. Lee Hee-ho and Hyun Jeong-eun are returning to South Korea the day before the event.

North Korea's party newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Monday called on the country's armed forces "to protect Kim Jong-un as respected leader of the party's central committee".