N.Korean National Cemetery Visit Sparks Concern

    August 14, 2005 22:27

    A visit by a North Korean delegation to Seoul’s National Cemetery on Sunday has sparked controversy in South Korea’s political circles. Initially welcome as a step toward national reconciliation, the visit to a cemetery mostly seen as symbolizing the losses of the Korean War now has some worried that Pyongyang will expect to be repaid in like currency -- and that would mean South Korean officials now may have to bow their heads to the embalmed remains of North Korea’s “great leader” Kim Il-sung.

    Riot police scuffle with protesters during an anti-North Korean rally in front of the National Cemetery, where victims of the Korean War are buried, in Seoul on Sunday. A delegation of North Koreans arrived in the South on Sunday to take part in four days of joint celebrations to mark 60 years since Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule and paid their respects at the cemetery.

    The Uri Party welcomed the North Korean visit and guardedly brought up the issue of the Kim Il-sung tomb, saying future South Korean visitors could pay their respects at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace. The first opportunity would come when a South Korean delegation attend inter-Korean ministerial-level talks at Mt. Baekdu on Sept. 13. Uri Party standing committee member Chang Young-dal said, "We don't necessarily have to mourn Kim Il-sung, but it's natural to pay respects at a symbolic place in North Korea.” But the party’s spokesman Chun Byung-hun said, "It's not yet the time to discuss the … question, and it's an issue that needs to be carefully judged."

    The Grand National Party seemed baffled. Party spokeswoman Chun Yu-ok said, "We initially welcomed the visit to the National Cemetery, but it could just be part of North Korea's typical psychological warfare." GNP lawmaker Kim Yong-kap was incensed. “The North has never apologized for the Korean War, and the government is dancing to the tune” of Pyongyang, he said.

    The Democratic Labor Party said the North Korean visit was a “turning point’ in relations and Seoul should look into sending a delegation to mourn the passing of Kim Il-sung. The Millennium Democratic Party agreed it was a turning point but said the question of paying respect to Kim Il-sung was a separate issue.

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