News / Asia

S. Korea Offers Condolences to North

The body of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is laid in a memorial palace in Pyongyang, North Korea, December 20, 2011.
The body of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is laid in a memorial palace in Pyongyang, North Korea, December 20, 2011.

South Korea has offered its condolences to the North Korean people a day after the world learned of the death of ruler Kim Jong Il.  The Seoul government was caught off guard by the news of his passing, amounting to what some say is an intelligence failure.  The South is scrapping plans to turn on provocative Christmas lights along the demilitarized zone.

Speaking after a presidential cabinet meeting on Tuesday, South Korean Minister of Unification Yu Woo-ik spoke on behalf of the government and addressed the people of North Korea.

He says the government conveys a consolation to North Korean citizens for the death of the chairman Kim Jong Il.

Yu says no official delegation will be sent to Pyongyang to attend Kim’s funeral on December 28. But Seoul will allow Lee Hee-ho, the wife of late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, and Hyun Jung-eun, chairwoman of the Hyundai Group, to visit North Korea to offer their personal condolences.  Both families had met with Kim Jong Il, in the past, during efforts to improve political and business relations with the North.

Also on Tuesday, lawmakers in the South Korean National Assembly questioned the nation’s spy chief, Won Sei-hoon, on how the administration was left in the dark about Kim’s death.  Both the National Intelligence Service and the Defense Ministry here say they only became aware of Kim’s passing once it was broadcast on North Korean television.   

Some observers say this represents an embarrassing intelligence failure.  Others say it speaks to how secretive the Pyongyang government is.    

John Delury, who lectures in East Asian studies at Yonsei university in Seoul, says its not the first time the Lee Myung Bak administration has failed to gather intelligence ahead of major incidents.

“They’re getting a lot of heat for again not knowing about it and that's been an ongoing issue with other incidents, other surprises, Kim Jong Il’s visits to China, tensions, conflicts on the NLL, the sea border, this issue has dogged the MB administration and its coming back again now, ” Delury said.

Delury adds that the administration was also late in coming out with an official statement regarding Kim’s death.  He points out that on Monday, the United States, China and Japan had all issued some form of response.

Unification Minister Yu also said during his announcement today that South Korea is backing off on its support to allow Christian groups to light Christmas lights on tree-shaped poles near the Demilitarized Zone.  Pyongyang previously had labeled the practice psychological warfare.

Yu says, because North Korea is in a mourning period, the government has decided to recommend the religious groups to defer the lighting of Christmas trees which was planned for December 23, near inter-Korean boarder.

North Korea had threatened to attack the three locations if the thousands of lights are switched on.

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