Condolences Furore Opens on New Front

Kim Yong Hun  |  2012-02-03 17:23
The government has belatedly conceded that three prominent Koreans with U.S. citizenship crossed the Military Demarcation Line to visit Pyongyang in order to pay their respects at the death of Kim Jong Il in December, raising suspicions of a deliberate attempt to cover up the story on the part of the government.

According to information released by the Ministry of Unification today, the three visitors were the current world leader of the Unification Church, Rev. Moon Hyung Jin, Pyonghwa Motors CEO Park Sang Kwon and Washington Times president Joo Dong Moon. Both Pyonghwa Motors and the Washington Times are businesses owned by the Unification Church.

The three departed for Pyongyang two days before the widow of former President Kim Dae Jung, Lee Hee Ho, and Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong Eun, on December 24th.

The information came to light some 40 days after it occurred when it was revealed by the Pyonghwa Motors CEO in an interview with Unification News. It was also reported by Chosun Central News Agency on January 24th, but at the time the three were assumed to have entered North Korea via China, and the story passed largely unnoticed.

In the interview, Park said, On the morning of Saturday, December 24th, the day before Christmas, we went across the DMZ, returning on the 30th. Even though the three are U.S. citizens, it is impossible to enter North Korea overland without South Korean government approval, raising suspicions that the government suppressed the news because it did not want it known that that the group had gone to Pyongyang, particularly by land from South Korea.

However, the Ministry of Unification denied the claim today, saying, The time when the Ministry of Unification learned of CEO Parks partys visit to North Korea was after it, before adding, It is not something we sought deliberately to hide; since it was a visit by someone who regularly visits North Korea, we judged it not to be something to make an issue of.

Asked whether it should have been released even though the people in question are U.S. citizens, the official went on, The Ministry of Unification has no reason to be aware of all the things an American who regularly visits Pyongyang does.

The Ministry of Unification spokespersons office can only know about visitors to North Korea who have to request permission from the office which deals with things like visits via Kaesong, Inter-Korean Cooperation District Support. There is no requirement for them to let the Ministry of Unification know in advance about every person visiting North Korea, so it is possible for us not to know, he went on.

However, there are suspicions that the Ministry was concerned at the negative reaction it might receive if it were to have been discovered that: it only learned of the mens overland trip to Pyongyang after the fact; and that while the Lee administration was steadfastly refusing to allow any trips by South Korean delegations to Pyongyang for the purposes of mourning with the exception of that led by Lee Hee Ho, it had effectively facilitated a trip by the delegation from the Unification Church.
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