News / Asia

South Korean Civilian Delegations Head North for Kim Funeral

Lee Hee-ho, the wife of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, center, arrives at Kaesong, North Korea, December 26, 2011.
Lee Hee-ho, the wife of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, center, arrives at Kaesong, North Korea, December 26, 2011.

Two small South Korean civilian delegations have crossed the border on their way to Pyongyang to pay condolences after the death of long-time leader Kim Jong Il. With the state funeral just days away, North Korean state television has been in overdrive to promote Kim Jong Il's younger son and successor, Kim Jong Un, as a great military leader - despite his lack of experience. 

Thetwo small delegations crossing the heavily armed border were accompanying widows of central figures from South Korea's "Sunshine Policy" era of generosity toward North Korea.

Lee Hee-ho is the widow of former president Kim Dae-jung, whose historic 2000 summit with Kim Jong Il cleared the way for economic cooperation between the two Koreas and the transfer of billions of dollars in aid to the impoverished North.

Yoon Chul-gu, Secretary-General of the Kim Dae-jung Peace Foundation, read a statement from Lee, saying her visit was to reciprocate an earlier courtesy on the part of the North.

"When my husband passed away in August 2009, chairman Kim Jong Il sent a condolence delegation to Seoul. I think it is a duty to make a condolence call," she said in the statement.

Hyun Jeong-eun, the widow of Hyundai group former chairman Chung Mong-hun, crossed in a separate small delegation. The Hyundai conglomerate was instrumental in building and managing special economic zones for tourism and industry in North Korea, and has made extensive investments to stimulate North-South economic cooperation.

"The South is allowing the civilian groups' visit North Korea for the future of the North-South relations," said Choi Boh-seon, a spokesman for South Korea's Unification Ministry. "Seoul hopes this would create momentum to continue reconciliation and exchanges between the two Koreas."

South Korea tightly controls travel to the North under its National Security Law. The two delegations are the only civilians permitted to pay condolences. No South Korean government delegation is visiting the North.

A semi-official North Korean website had offered to allow in any South Korean group willing to pay condolences to the late Kim. But Brian Myers, a professor specializing in North Korean propaganda at South Korea's Dongseo University, says Pyongyang was never likely to insist on a mass visit.

"They don't really want a sizeable South Korean delegation, not just because it would cause logistic problems, but also because they would be unlikely to behave in the way expected of them," he said. "I think the North Koreans would expect any Korean visitors to Pyongyang to be just as distraught, or at least to put on an act and pretend to be as distraught, as the locals. And I don't think the South Koreans would be likely to do that."

It remains unclear whether the two delegations will have an opportunity to interact personally with Kim Jong Il's youngest son and successor, Kim Jung Un. North Korean media have been portraying the young Kim as upholding his father's "military first policy," reporting that he has been named "supreme commander" of the country's forces.

Professor Myers says information about the new leader himself has been scant.

"There's a lot more talk about people's admiration for the young man than there is actual talk about the young man himself," he said. "We're getting repeated avowals of unity and loyalty to the young man, and we're still not seeing an official biography of him. So I think average North Korean is asking himself just what makes this person so uniquely qualified to rule."

Kim Jong Il's funeral is scheduled for Wednesday.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs