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

  • VOA News

    August 22, 2009 09:15

    North Korean Chief delegate Kim Ki-nam and the country's spy chief Kim Yang Gon (right), arrive to participate in a memorial service for the late former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in Seoul on Aug. 21, 2009.

    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 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. 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.

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