North Korea sent a condolence message and flowers for former first lady Lee Hee-ho who died Monday night, the Unification Ministry said Wednesday.
Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and First Vice Director of Workers’ Party of Korea, delivered a written message in her brother’s name, for the funeral of Lee, who is known for her own efforts as well as support for the peace and inter-Korean reconciliation efforts of her husband -- former President Kim Dae-jung.
To accept condolences, National Security Office Director Chung Eui-yong traveled to the border village of Panmunjom and met with Kim Yo-jong for about 15 minutes.
“Kim said she expected that the two Koreas would continue cooperation to honor the late Lee Hee-ho’s wish who had made an effort for the reconciliation and cooperation of the Korean people,” Chung told reporters upon arriving from his trip to Panmunjom.
Chung was accompanied by Vice Unification Minister Suh Ho and the Party for Democracy and Peace’s Rep. Park Jie-won and Yun Kun-young, presidential secretary for state affairs while Yo-jong was with Ri Hyon, a senior official at the United Front Department in charge of inter-Korean affairs.
The officials from the two Koreas focused on mourning the deceased during the brief meeting, said Chung, adding that there were no personal messages exchanged between the North Korean leader and President Moon Jae-in.
Rep. Park said that he expressed his regret to the North Korean officials for Pyongyang sending a message and flowers instead of the delegation that Seoul expected.
Asked if they had a reason for not dispatching a delegation, Park said they didn’t explain but said they would convey the message to their leader.
On Wednesday morning, Pyongyang proposed the meeting through the inter-Korean liaison office in the North’s border town of Kaesong, following Seoul’s notification of Lee’s death on Tuesday.
Whether North Korea would dispatch high-level delegations to the South had been the focus of attention as the regime has been doing so when a person who contributed greatly to the improvement of relations between the two Koreas died in the past.
Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and First Vice Director of Workers' Party of Korea, delivers condolence flowers and a written message in her brother's name, for the funeral of former first lady Lee Hee-ho at the truce village of Panmunjom on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
The letter and flowers were to be handed over to the bereaved family at Yonsei Severance Hospital where the mourning altar for the late Lee has been set up.
Rep. Park Jie-won called the meeting of the two Korea’s high-ranking officials “a meaningful step,” in light of stalled inter-Korean relations after the Hanoi summit. The summit between US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader ended without a deal in February and their nuclear talks as well as inter-Korean dialogue have been stalemated since then.
“It seems to be a meaningful change of the North along with a letter that Chairman Kim sent to the US president,” Park wrote on his Facebook page on his way to meet with Yo-jong.
On Tuesday, Trump said he received a beautiful and warm letter from Kim and that he expects “something very positive will happen.”
When former President Kim Dae-jung, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for initiating and successfully implementing the “Sunshine Policy” toward the North, passed away in August 2009, Pyongyang sent six senior officials to attend Kim’s funeral.
The former first lady traveled to Pyongyang on Dec. 26, 2011, for the funeral of Kim Jong-il, the current leader’s father. During that visit she met Kim Jong-un, becoming the first South Korean figure to meet him after he succeeded his father.
By Park Han-na and Joint Press Corps (firstname.lastname@example.org