Seoul expressed sympathy Tuesday, to the people of the North Korea over the death of their “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il.
“The government extends condolences to the people of the North Korea over Kim’s death," Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik said in a nationally televised press conference after a meeting of security-related ministers presided over by President Lee Myung-bak.
“We hope that the North will quickly regain stability and work with South Korea for peace and prosperity on the peninsula.”
Yu carefully chose his words to address the reconciliatory statement toward North Korea’s general population in line with the government’s policy to separate the North's military regime and hunger-stricken people.
“The government will only allow the families of late President Kim Dae-jung and late Hyundai Group Chairman Chung Mong-hun to visit the North to pay respects in appreciation for the sending of delegations to Seoul when Kim and Chung passed away,” he said. The funeral will take place next Wednesday in Pyongyang,
The remarks came as opposition party lawmakers and liberal activists pressed the government to send a delegation to Pyongyang as a conciliatory gesture.
A poll of 700 carried out Monday showed that 49.6 percent said the government should give official condolences over Kim’s death. Only 31.4 percent of respondents were against it.
Late President Kim held the first-ever inter-Korean summit with the late North Korean leader in 2000, and Chung pushed aggressively for joint economic projects with the impoverished North. Pyongyang sent condolence delegations to Seoul when Chung and Kim died in 2003 and 2009, respectively.
On Monday, Lee Hee-ho, wife of the late President Kim, issued a statement urging Seoul to allow South Koreans to visit the communist North.
Hyundai Group said Hyun Jeong-eun, its group chairwoman and wife of the late Chung, will visit North Korea to express her condolences.
Lawmakers of the governing Grand National Party (GNP) supported the government’s move not to dispatch a delegation to Pyongyang.
They argued that North Korea may turn down South Korea’s offer anyway as the reclusive regime announced that it won’t welcome foreign delegations to the funeral.
Opposition lawmakers, however, said the government should send a small group to the North.
"It is necessary to take Kim's death as an opportunity to improve inter-Korean relations," DUP lawmaker Kim Dong-chul said.
Observers say the government will not further soften its hard-line policy toward the Stalinist North on fears that the move may cause a backlash from conservatives ahead of next year's two crucial elections.
Seoul did not officially send condolences over the death of Kim Il-sung when he died in the summer of 1994, which many say contributed to worsening inter-Korean ties for years.
Meanwhile, defense officials said that religious groups agreed to withdraw their plan to light Christmas tree towers near the border this week.
Seoul planned to allow North Koreans to light three Christmas tree-shaped towers near the border Friday, a move that prompted the North to accuse Seoul of intensifying psychological warfare.
On the other-hand North Korean television discloses Their Leader Kim Jong-il's body
North Korea's successor Kim Jong-un mourned the death of his father Kim Jong-il on Tuesday as the isolated country showed the leader's body in the first public ceremony of the grieving period.
Kim entered the hall of Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang, where the body of his late father lies in state, to the solemn playing of funeral music, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported in a dispatch.
"Kim Jong-un observed a moment's silence in the bitterest grief" together with other top officials, the dispatch said, adding that Kim's bier was seen lying among flowers, covered by a red flag. (Yonhap)