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(3rd LD) N. Korean leader vows efforts for reunification

2014/12/24 19:25

By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Dec. 24 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in a rare move, has openly vowed to make active efforts to achieve the reunification of the Korean Peninsula, a former aide to late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung said Wednesday after a visit to the communist country.

The North Korean leader made the pledge in a letter sent to Kim Dae-jung's widow Lee Hee-ho who earlier had sent a wreath of flower across the border to mark the third anniversary on Dec. 18 of the death of his late father, Kim Jong-il.

Kim Sung-jae, who served as the culture minister under the Kim Dae-jung government from 1998-2003, led a six-member delegation from the non-profit Kim Dae Jung Peace Center on the one-day visit to the North's border city of Kaesong.

Seen here is the letter North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sent to Lee Hee-ho, the widow of South Korea's former President Kim Dae-jung. (Yonhap)  Seen here is the letter North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sent to Lee Hee-ho, the widow of South Korea's former President Kim Dae-jung. (Yonhap)

Kim Dae-jung is respected in North Korea for his "sunshine" policy of reconciling with the communist country. He held the first-ever inter-Korean summit with the then North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, in 2000, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize the same year.

Kim Jong-il "had often reminded me of your devotion along with former President Kim Dae-jung to the people and national reunification," the young North Korean leader said in the letter dated Dec. 18, 2014.

"Following their lofty willingness for the unification and their life-time feat, we will continue to strive actively to achieve the long-cherished dream of the unification down the road," said the young leader who inherited power from his father in 2009.

The North Korean leader's message came at a time when inter-Korean relations have been deadlocked and the communist country has ratcheted up tensions. Government-level dialogue has also been suspended since last month as the two Koreas failed to hold a planned second round of high-level talks and the United Nations passed a resolution condemning the dire human rights situation in the communist country.

The North's leader also said he is looking forward to a planned visit to North Korea next year by the former South Korean first lady.

Lee, 92, expressed her wish to travel to North Korea for humanitarian purposes in October. Her request was accepted by Pyongyang last month but she had to postpone the visit to next year because of the cold winter weather.

It will be Lee's second visit to North Korea in three years. She made her last trip to the North to attend the funeral of then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. At that time, she met with the current leader, Kim Jong-un.

In Kaesong, the visitors from South Korea met with Kim Yang-gon secretary of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea, who also stressed his "sincere hope" for the improvement of the inter-Korean ties, according to delegation officials.

"Secretary Kim Yang-gon said resolving small issues such as (the resumption of) the tour program to Mount Kumgang, (the lifting of) the May 24 sanctions, and the reunions of separated families could pave the way for greater strides," the delegation chief said. "He said he really hope for the improvement of the inter-Korean relations."

   South Korea has maintained the so-called May 24th sanctions against the North since one of its warships sank following a torpedo attack blamed on Pyongyang in 2010. Forty-six sailors were killed in the attack.

The joint tour program to the North's scenic resort of Mount Kumgang operated by Hyundai Asan Co., a unit of Hyundai Group, for a decade was halted in 2008 following the shooting death of a female South Korean tourist there.

While North Korea has expressed hope for the resumption of the tour program, the Seoul government called on Pyongyang first to apologize for the deadly incident and to come up with measures to guarantee the safety of the Korean tourists. The North denied its involvement in the ship sinking.

About an hour after the delegation's return from the North, South Korea's Hyundai Group chief Hyun Jeong-eun, along with six other company officials, also made a separate trip to the border town of Kaesong and met with the North's point man on the South.