North Korea to send envoys to Kim funeral

The isolationist state plans to send a delegation to pay its respects to Kim Dae-jung, the former South Korean president who launched a policy of rapprochement with the North.

North Korea plans to send a delegation of “special envoys” to the state funeral that South Korea’s government is staging for Kim Dae-jung, the former president who initiated the Sunshine policy of reconciliation toward the North.

The surprise move is the latest signal from the North of a thaw in relations.

North Korea faxed a letter to the unofficial Kim Dae-jung Peace Center, according to Park Jie-won, a long-time top aide to the former president, in which it said it had “arranged a delegation of special envoys” that would “bring a wreath.” The five-member delegation, it said, would include two members of the ruling Workers’ Party.

The North Korean message clearly caught South Korean officials by surprise. A spokeswoman at the South’s Unification Ministry, responsible for all dealings with North Korea, told Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, that her government had “received no such information yet from North Korea and was holding a comprehensive review” on the subject.

At the same time, a spokesman for South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak was quoted as saying there was “no reason to oppose [a North Korean delegation] if it intends to come to pay condolences.”

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il, has already sent condolences to Kim Dae-jung’s widow, Lee Hee-ho, who was at her husband’s bedside when he died on Tuesday.

Back to Sunshine Days?

The North Korean response harks back to the high hopes and emotions engendered by the first inter-Korean summit, in June 2000, at which the two Kims met in Pyongyang and issued a joint declaration resolving to settle differences. Six months later, Kim Dae-jung received the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the days before Kim Dae-jung’s death, Kim Jong-il also took steps to soothe tensions with the South.

Last weekend Mr. Kim received Hyun Jeong-eun, the chairwoman of Hyundai Asan, the company responsible for building the special economic complex at Kaesong and the tourist zone at Mount Kumkang.

Last week, the North released a Hyundai Asan engineer who had been held for 137 days in the Kaesong complex, allegedly for maligning the North Korean regime in flirtatious conversations with a North Korean waitress.

Kaesong complex reopens

North Korea has said it is reopening the Kaesong complex to normal traffic, severely reduced earlier this year.

North and South Korean officials also hope to reopen tourist visits to Mount Kumkang, suspended more than a year ago after a South Korean woman was shot and killed by North Korean soldiers while wandering outside the zone to look at the sunrise.

North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency paid special tribute to Kim Dae-jung, saying “the feats he performed to achieve national reconciliation and realize the desire for reunification will remain long with the nation.”

Holding back criticism

North Korea in recent days has strongly criticized US and South Korean military exercises but refrained from its usual harsh criticism of President Lee, often denounced as a “traitor” for cutting off shipments of food and fertilizer as given during the presidencies of Kim Dae-jung and his successor, Roh Moo-hyun.

Mr. Lee, who succeeded Mr. Roh in February 2008, has insisted on “verification” of anything North Korea claims to have done to abandon its nuclear program. North Korea has restarted the program and withdrawn from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

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