North Korea opens doors to South for Kim's funeral

Anger as Seoul rules out sending official delegation to pay respects to Kim Jong-il

Click to follow
The Independent Online

North Korea has opened its doors to just about anyone from South Korea who wants to travel for Kim Jong-il's funeral on Wednesday.

The official North Korean website Uriminzokkiri said all delegations from the South were welcome – and they can even travel by road through the border village of Panmunjom rather than fly via Beijing.

The website said the "convenience and safety of South Korean condolence delegations will be fully guaranteed".

Its southern neighbour however, has refused to send an official party and is banning requests by opposition politicians to go there. Seoul also has no intention of opening up access via Panmunjom, a route normally closed to all but high-level visitors.

In response, Uriminzokkiri accused South Korea of "unacceptable and inhumane action" for barring all but two condolence groups and warned of the "significant impact" of the ban.

Its attack appeared to be a blatant attempt at intimidation, hinting at a new crisis on the Korean peninsula as Kim Jong-un, the third son of Kim Jong-il, assumes power in name, if not in fact.

"We will keep in mind those who do not understand even the most basic actions of respect and humanity," it added, warning that those "who insult our dignity [face] a very expensive price".

David Kang, professor of Korean studies at the University of Southern California, said he did not anticipate a thaw in North Korea's tough stance in the short run.

If Kim Jong-un followed "in his father's footsteps, it will take a couple of years" before there was any change in the state's outlook, Prof Kang added.

The list of invitees is likely to prompt speculation about the regime's likely policies. Among the guests is a Japanese magician, Princess Tenko, a favourite of the eccentric dictator.

Kim Jong-un nominally heads the funeral committee but it is unlikely he had much to do with the selection of its 230 or so members.

South Korea so far has agreed to give access only to two widows – whose husbands pursued rapprochement between the countries – to lead their own "condolence delegations". The first is Lee Hee-ho, widow of Kim Dae-jung – the president who articulated a "Sunshine policy" of reconciliation with the North, flew to Pyongyang for the first inter-Korean summit with Kim Jong-il in June 2000 and won the Nobel Peace Prize six months later.

The second is Hyun Jeong-eun, widow of Chung Mong-hun – who as chairman of an arm of the Hyundai group, was responsible for realising the dream of his father and founder of the Hyundai conglomerate, Chung Ju-yung, to open up the North for business and tourism.

Mong-hun killed himself in August 2003, two months after being indicted for his role in channelling at least £320m in bribes from to the North to persuade Kim Jong-il to agree to the summit.

While welcoming Southern delegations, authorities in the North do not seem so hospitable to Kim Jong-il's offspring other than Kim Jong-un. The late dictator's eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, who lives in Macao, is not believed to be on the guest list.

Once seen as a likely successor, Jong-nam lost out after he was nailed by Japanese immigration officials in 2001 trying to get through Tokyo's Narita airport on a fake Dominican passport to take his son to Disneyland.

Nor is it clear if the middle of the three brothers, Kim Jong-chol, will be visible at the funeral either.

Jong-chol, now 30 and living quietly in Pyongyang, lost out when his father passed him over for being effete and possibly effeminate.

Dear Friends: The Guest List

Kim Jong-nam

Kim Jong-il's oldest son gained notoriety in 2001 after being arrested in Japan with a fake passport, claiming he wanted to visit Disneyland. The family rogue frequents China's gambling resort of Macau.

Princess Tenko

Mariko Itakura, aka Princess Tenko, was crowned 1990 Magician of the Year in the US, and twice performed in Pyongyang at Mr Kim's invitation. She is reportedly invited to the funeral.

Lee Hee-ho

The widow of South Korea's former president Kim Dae-jung, Ms Lee's invitation to will continue her late husband's desire to bring the countries closer together. Mr Kim visited Pyongyang and in 2000 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in part for his work on reconciliation.

Hyun Jeong-eun

The chairwoman of the Hyundai Group has strong relations with the North because of the car-maker's work at the Kaesong industrial complex shared by North and South.

Rosie Scammell

Minute's silence met by western boycott at UN

The UN General Assembly held a silence in memory of Kim Jong-il – but half of the 193 members of the world body did not attend.

While the assembly's president, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, asked North Korea's ambassador to "convey condolences" to Pyongyang, the sparse attendance gave a different picture of the world's view of Mr Kim.

The US, Japan, South Korea and the UK, as well as most other EU members, were among the countries which chose to boycott the remembrance. They also declined to sign a condolence book at the North Korean mission earlier in the week.

The moment proved so embarrassing for the UN that the proposed "minute" of silence in fact lasted 25 seconds.