North Korea said Friday that it would accept all South Korean delegations to mourn the death of its leader Kim Jong-il, a move that could spark conflict as Seoul has decided to allow only a select number of groups to attend his funeral.
On its official website, “Uriminjokkiri,” the North also upbraided the South for its restriction on civilian condolence delegations to Pyongyang for the funeral on Dec. 28, calling the decision “unacceptable, inhumane and barbaric.”
“We will respectfully accept all delegations from South Korea based on fraternal love. We have taken steps to open the land and air routes for their visit,” the website said in a message titled “Our sincere measure for South Korean mourners.”
“During their stay (in the North), the convenience and safety of South Korean condolence delegations will be fully guaranteed. This is an expression of our courtesy and sincerity for South Korean mourners who would like to share our grief.”
“Uriminjokkiri” is the communist state’s propaganda website run by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland. It disseminates news articles and other propaganda materials produced by state organizations and media.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry said that its stance on mourning delegations will not change.
“We have announced our government position on this issue in due consideration of the past, present and future of inter-Korean relations as well as public sentiment. As of now, we have no plan to change that,” ministry spokesperson Choi Bo-seon said in a regular briefing.
Yoo Ho-yeol, North Korea expert at Korea University said that in some sense, the North appears to be taking advantage of the brewing conflict over the issue in the South to make Seoul’s policy turn in its favor.
“When there is a ‘South-South’ conflict, it is beneficial for the North as there is more room to turn the situation in the South in its favor. By accepting more delegations from the South, it also seeks to enhance Kim Jong-un’s legitimacy as next leader,” he said.
Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said that Kim’s death could offer a chance to improve inter-Korean relations, stressing that Seoul should exert “more flexibility” in its policy toward Pyongyang.
The website also warned that the issue over the mourning groups could seriously impact inter-Korean ties.
“South Korean authorities should consider the grave impact this issue will bring about on inter-Korean ties in the future. Inter-Korean relations are at a critical crossroads. Depending on how South Korea responds, the relations could thaw or come to a complete end.”
A day after the North announced that Kim died of a heart attack on Saturday, Seoul said that it would not send a government delegation to the North, in an apparent move to ward off a possible ideological dispute over the issue.
But the government said it would allow the bereaved families of former President Kim Dae-jung and Chung Mong-hun, former chairman of Hyundai Asan, to attend his funeral, in return for the visits by the North to their funerals here in August 2009 and in August 2003, respectively. Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il held the first-ever North-South summit in 2000, and the Hyundai Group pioneered business exchanges between the two Koreas.
The North said Thursday that it would accept the two separate delegations led by Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun and former first lady Lee Hee-ho.
In a separate commentary on the website, the North denounced the South for banning other civilian groups from sending their mourning delegations.
“Visits by the mourners are a natural display of courtesy and a right thing to do in light of fraternal love, traditional beautiful custom and moral duty,” it said.
It also criticized the South for not offering condolences to Pyongyang for Kim’s death, saying that the move is an “unbearable affront to its dignity and also a mockery.”
South Korea has officially conveyed “consolation” to the people in North Korea, falling short of offering condolences. But it has allowed civilians to offer their condolence messages to the North by fax or mail.
“The South revealed its impure mind by saying that it would separately deal with the North Korean leadership and its people and by refusing to offer condolences but offering consolation to the people,” it said.
As some civic groups here are preparing to form their delegations, attention is being drawn to whether the government will allow them to visit the North.
The Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation plans to form a civilian mourning delegation and consult with the government over it. Several other groups such as the National Council of Churches in Korea plan to apply for their visit to the North.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com