Accessibility links

N. Korean Envoys Visit South to Pay Respects to Former President

For the first time, North Korea has sent a delegation to present formal condolences to the family of a deceased South Korean president. The visit is a tribute to Kim Dae-jung's efforts at North-South reconciliation. But North Koreans who fled to the South at great personal danger to themselves have a skeptical view of the former president's legacy.

It was a rare sight Friday in the South Korean capital: Senior North Korean envoys approached a memorial to former President Kim Dae-jung with a giant funeral bouquet bearing the name of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

The six delegates arrived a short time earlier at Seoul's Kimpo airport. They included the North's intelligence chief and the senior officials of the North's ruling communist party. They depart Saturday, before Mr. Kim's state funeral on Sunday.

An announcer on North Korean state-run media reported this week that "the great leader Kim Jong Il has sent a message of condolence to former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung's family."

President Kim died this week at 85. He pioneered a new policy of South Korean reconciliation with the North, beginning with the historic 2000 Pyongyang summit. Mr. Kim won the Nobel Peace Prize after that meeting - although the event was later tarnished by allegations South Korea paid the North half a billion dollars to hold the summit.

Friday marks the first time in nearly two years that North Korean officials have set foot in South Korea. It is the first time the North has ever paid such an explicit tribute to a South Korean leader. The two countries remain technically at war, more than 50 years after fighting in the Korean War ended.

Many South Koreans look fondly on what President Kim called his sunshine policy of uncritically engaging the North, saying it transformed the relationship between the two. Others view it as overly indulgent of North Korea, glossing over its nuclear weapons programs and its human rights abuses.

Many of the 15,000 North Korean defectors living in the South take the latter view. They risked their lives and those of their families to flee hunger and persecution in the North.

One recent defector says she and others like her do not feel much sorrow at Mr. Kim's passing. She says even though it is a shame that South Korea has lost a famous politician and a historic figure - North Korea policy under Kim Dae-jung, in her opinion, was handled "so wrongly."

Kim Heung Gwang was a university professor in the North, before coming to the South. He says ultimately, we have to ask whether the sunshine policy "warmed" the North enough to change. The answer, he says, is no.