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(2nd LD) S. Korea OKs ex-first lady's planned visit to N. Korea

2015/08/04 19:57

(ATTN: ADDS details on police reaction in last para)

SEOUL, Aug. 4 (Yonhap) -- The Unification Ministry said Tuesday it has approved a plan by a former first lady to visit North Korea this week, a trip expected to help improve strained inter-Korean ties.

Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former President Kim Dae-jung, plans to visit North Korea from Wednesday to Saturday by low-budget local plane for humanitarian purposes. The 93-year-old Lee was the South's first lady during Kim's five-year tenure until 2003.

The ministry said it has given the green light to an application by the 19-member delegation to make a trip to the North. Any visit to North Korea by a South Korean is subject to government approval.

Lee's planned visit is raising hope that it will help ease tension on the divided peninsula as the two countries are to mark the 70th anniversary of their liberation from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule this year.

Former first lady Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung (Yonhap file photo) Former first lady Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung (Yonhap file photo)

Whether she could meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is the focus of the South's media attention, though nothing has been decided. Lee plans to deliver knitted hats, scarves and clothes to North Korean children.

Her itinerary includes a visit to a children's hospital and a nursery facility in Pyongyang and Mt. Myohyang in North Pyongan Province, north of Pyongyang.

The ministry said Monday it plans not to ask Lee to convey a special message on inter-Korean relations to the North on the Seoul government's behalf, as Lee will visit the North in a private capacity.

The Kim Dae-jung Peace Center, the organizer for the trip, said that the delegation does not include high-profile politicians or former government officials such as opposition lawmaker Park Jie-won. South Korean journalists will also not be allowed to accompany the delegation to cover Lee's trip.

Despite the humanitarian purpose of the planned visit, a local anti-North Korean organization on Tuesday sent out letters to some local media, threatening to explode the plane Lee will be using.

In a one-page letter, the organization said Lee's planned visit is "a scheme aimed at again extending the life of the North Korean regime" and threatened to blow up the plane in either the departure or the return trip.

Police said the document was sent to 19 people via e-mail and said they are tracking down the sender, adding the organization is an unregistered group without previous track records of engaging in conservative or anti-North Korean activities.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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