South Koreans stay away from ceremony at North Korea’s communist monument
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – A rare joint national holiday celebration between North and South Korea ended in a split Thursday as the Southern delegation refused to attend its closing ceremony at a communist monument, news reports said.
But 60 of the 311 Southern delegates attended a party at the monument after the closing ceremony, causing controversy among the delegation, said pool reports by 26 South Korean journalists accompanying them.
The South Korean delegates – composed of religious, labor and civic activists – had been divided over whether to attend the closing ceremony.
Seoul had permitted their trip on condition that they do not visit any communist monuments. It feared that the Pyongyang regime would use such a visit for political propaganda.
But a third of the South Korean delegates defied the government and visited an opening ceremony Wednesday at the ”Monument to Three Chapters for National Unification,” a tribute to the North’s unification policy.
The incident embarrassed the government of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, whose trademark policy of seeking engagement with North Korea has made little progress this year.
Conservative critics have accused Kim of being too soft on North Korea’s alleged attempts to use contacts with the South for political propaganda.
The South Korean delegation flew to Pyongyang on Wednesday to celebrate jointly the Aug. 15 anniversary of Korea’s 1945 liberation from Japanese colonial rule.
The four leaders of the Southern delegation had pledged not to visit any communist monuments in Pyongyang. Other delegates did not sign such a promise.
The Seoul government has yet decided on whether to punish the delegates who visited the Pyongyang monument. Previously, South Koreans paying tribute at monuments in Pyongyang have been jailed upon returning home.
Despite the bickering, the Southern delegates joined North Korean counterparts earlier Thursday in criticizing Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s recent visit to a Tokyo shrine that commemorates Japan’s war dead.
The two Koreas and other Asian countries viewed the visit as a sign that Japan glorifies its militarist past and refuses to atone for wartime atrocities.
Contact between the two Korean governments remains frozen amid tension between the United States and North Korea.
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