The Defense Ministry said Thursday that it will allow a local church to light up a Christmas tower near the tense border with North Korea, reversing its reluctant attitude over the sensitive tradition ahead of major political events.
Military officials earlier this month said Christmas towers near the military demarcation line would not be lit up this year, apparently reflecting concerns that the move could have escalated tension ahead of Pyongyang’s Dec. 12 rocket launch and the presidential election Wednesday.
Shortly after the voting ended with conservative Park Geun-hye’s victory, the ministry said it has given approval to a Seoul church to illuminate a giant Christmas tree on top of a hill called Aegibong on the western front starting from Friday.
“The Christmas tree will be lit up from Dec. 22 through Jan. 2 to allow soldiers to enjoy religious freedom,” ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said in a briefing, noting the front-line military has stepped up its guard against possible border unrest.
All able-bodied Korean men must serve in the military for at least two years, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce.
Kim said the government made the decision as it has customarily allowed private organizations and churches to hold lighting event upon their requests.
It had been an annual tradition for South Korea to light a Christmas tree near the border with the North before it was suspended in 2003 under a reconciliation agreement with the communist rival to end border propaganda activities.
Seoul resumed lighting a giant tower in 2010 after the North’s deadly artillery attack on a border island in the Yellow Sea, but it dropped the plan last year following then-leader Kim Jong-il’s death on Dec. 17.
For this year’s event, the Military Evangelical Association of Korea had asked for the ministry’s approval, but called off the plan in late November after it faced protests from jittery residents in the border area. (Yonhap News)