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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 274 (August 8, 2013)

2013/08/08 10:42

*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

N. Korean Leader Delivers Personal Message to Hyundai Chairwoman

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivered a personal message to Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun on Aug. 3 during her visit to the socialist state to hold a memorial service at the Mount Kumgang resort for her late husband and former Hyundai Chairman Chung Mong-hun.

The North's state media said on Aug. 4 that Kim sent a "verbal message" to the chief of South Korea's Hyundai Group, wishing the company and the chief's family all the best.

The report by the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) came one day after the Hyundai chairwoman visited the nation to hold the 10th anniversary of her late husband's death.

North Korea also cherished the memory of the deceased Hyundai chairman, highly assessing him as a "patriot who devoted himself to the entire Korean people."

   Hyundai Asan Corp., Hyundai Group's North Korean business arm, had been at the forefront of inter-Korean business cooperation and played a leading role in the opening of the Mount Kumgang resort and the Kaesong factory zone, both of which have now been halted.

Hyun told reporters upon returning to South Korea on Aug. 3 that Hyundai has not given up on the suspended Mount Kumgang tourism project. Her late husband spearheaded the cross-border Mount Kumgang resort and the Kaesong Industrial Park.

The chairwoman said that she had received the message from the North Korean leader via Won Tong-yon, the vice chairman of the North's Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee.

"Kim Jong-un said in the message that Chung Mong-hun explored the road of national reconciliation and cooperation, and did great work for developing inter-Korean relations and achieving the country's reunification," said the KCNA.

"He prayed for the soul of Chung and hoped that Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun and other family members of Chung and the group will see everything go well."

   Hyun expressed the "most heartfelt thanks to Marshal Kim Jong-un for sending the verbal message and extended warm gratitude to him, reflecting the best wishes from the family and the group," the KCNA added.

The KCNA reported that Hyundai Group officials promised to spare no efforts to resume the Mount Kumgang tours and boost reconciliation between the two Koreas in line with the wish of Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju-yung and his sixth son Chung Mong-hun.

The message was the first sent by Kim to a South Korean individual since he took power following the December 2011 death of his father and former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

The Seoul government did not issue its official stance on Kim's message given to Hyun, saying the visit was of no political importance.

Hyun crossed the demilitarized zone in the morning of Aug. 3 with 38 other executives of Hyundai Asan and returned to the South in the afternoon after holding the memorial service.

Hyundai officials have held a memorial service for Chung at the North's Mount Kumgang resort every year since his death.

Chung committed suicide in 2003 under pressure of an impending prosecution investigation into his role concerning allegations that then President Kim Dae-jung secretly sent a large amount of money to the North ahead of the first-ever inter-Korean summit in 2000. Hyun has since succeeded her husband as Hyundai's chief.

The KCNA also said Hyundai officials expressed their determination to do their best to resume the suspended tours to the Mount Kumgang resort.

It is the first time Kim has sent a personal letter to a South Korean and comes as negotiations between the two sides are at a deadlock over the idle Kaesong Industrial Complex, a remnant of former President Kim Dae-jung's Sunshine Policy.

Won Tong-yon and a North Korean delegation of 20 officials greeted the Hyundai delegation and attended the memorial service. Afterward, the group toured the resort facilities.

At the memorial service, Hwang Ho-yong, director of the North's Guidance Bureau of Special Zone for International Tour of Mount Kumgang, said that Chung Mong-hun together with Honorary Chairman Chung Ju-yung explored the road of reconciliation and cooperation with warm patriotism and devotedly worked for developing the inter-Korean relations and achieving the country's reunification.

He recalled that Kim Jong-il set store by Chung Mong-hun's patriotism and showed him love and trust. He also noted that the "supreme leader Kim Jong-un is paying deep attention to the family and the group and showed warm loving care on the 10th anniversary of Chung Mong-hun's death, true to the noble will of Kim Jong-il."

   Experts in Seoul said the North Korean leader's message largely contained warm sentiments and carried no political or business references, but marked a rare gesture of amity.

North Korea's main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, the organ of the Workers' Party, said in an article that Chung Mong-hun and his father Chung Ju-yung made great contributions to the opening of a new chapter for inter-Korean economic cooperation.

North Korea's official website, Uriminzokkiri, also introduced the deep cooperative relationship between the late leader Kim Jong-il and the Hyundai group for building a bridge connecting the two Koreas through national reconciliation.

Tongil Sinbo, a weekly North Korean magazine, said on Aug. 2 that the Chung Mong-hun was the victim of a political murder committed by South Korea's ultra-rightists and anti-unification forces.

Despite the stalled tourism project, Hyun said, "After inspecting the hotel and tourism facilities, there seem to be no problems, but for tourism in the future, there will need to be closer safety inspection and renovation."

   "Though there has been no tourism in more than five years, Hyundai will not give up on tourism in Mount Kumgang. We will work hard so that tourism can resume."

   It was Hyun's first visit in four years to Mount Kumgang, which was shut down in 2008 after a South Korean tourist was shot and killed by a North Korean guard.

But Hyundai officials have held a memorial service for Chung at the North Korean mountain resort every year since his death.

Hyun attended Kim Jong-il's funeral in December 2011 to reciprocate for a North delegation attending the funeral of her husband.

Hyun's visit came as the two Koreas reached a deadlock in negotiations over the resumption of an joint industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong, the last-remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation.

The operations at Kaesong have been halted since early April amid mounting tensions on the Korean Peninsula following the North's third nuclear test on Feb. 12.

The industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong started operations in 2004 as a result of the historic 2000 summit.

The sides have held six rounds of talks but failed to find a compromise as differences in positions are too wide to narrow. South Korea proposed to hold one last round of negotiations, but the North has remained silent on the offer.

At low-level talks on reopening Kaesong, North Korea proposed that the South restart tours to the resort as well as organize family reunions, but backed down after the negotiations stalled.

Despite repeated proposals by Seoul urging North Korea to accept final-round working-level talks to establish safeguards to prevent a recurrence of a shutdown of the Kaesong complex, Pyongyang had failed to respond.

But on Aug. 7, South and North Korea agreed to hold talks on Aug. 14 on the reopening of the Kaesong industrial park. The North said it would accept Seoul's offer of talks and lift its four-month suspension and ban on South Koreans' entry to the border city.

(END)