October 23, 2014 09:57
A giant steel Christmas tree near the border with North Korea that served as a propaganda symbol for the South for 43 years has been pulled down.
It used to stand at Aegibong Peak in Gimpo, Gyeonggi Province and twinkle a message of progress, consumerism and born-again Christianity across the border, to the fury of the North Korean regime.
The local government now plans to build a peace park with the budget of W29.6 billion (US$1=W1,052) there.
Military authorities pulled it down on Oct. 15-16 citing safety reasons. The structure "was rated very dangerous in a safety inspection of military facilities and structures in November last year," a Defense Ministry spokesman said.
"We demolished it for fear that it could collapse in severe weather or other conditions because the ground had become unstable under the heavy weight of the steel structure."
Some visitors to the peak missed the tree. Hong Seung-jin (82) from Seoul said, "It was very good to see the tower illuminated at Christmas. It should have been left intact, so that North Koreans too can continue to see it. I can't understand why it was demolished."
The 18 m-tall tower was built in 1971. It stood only 3 km from Kaesong in North Korea, so Kaesong residents could see the illumination on the tower when it was lit up.
Until 2004, the South Korean military also blasted propaganda messages against the North from the tower, but they stopped under a cross-border agreement.
The North had responded sensitively to the illumination, reportedly because people in Kaesong on the other side of the border spent their nights in darkness because of chronic power shortages.
The lights were switched back on in December 2010, after the North sank the Navy corvette Cheonan and shelled Yeonpyeong Island in March and November that year. The North threatened to bombard it.
Despite the safety concerns, there are suspicions about the timing of the demolition, which comes conveniently ahead of high-level inter-Korean talks.
The Gimpo city government had not been notified of the demolition beforehand. "We found out about it from the media," a city official said.
Prof. Nam Sung-wook of Korea University has misgivings. "Of course, it's good to create a favorable atmosphere for inter-Korean dialogue by preventing activists from floating propaganda leaflets across the border and pulling the tower down," he said. "But there might be criticism that we lose more than we gain if we behave so meekly."
Critics suggested that South Korea accepted a request from the North to pull the tower down during military talks on Oct. 15.
But a ministry official said, "During the talks, the two sides discussed suspension of propaganda in a comprehensive way but didn't pinpoint the Christmas tree."
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