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PSPD    People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy

  • Peace/Disarmament
  • 2001.09.15
  • 1041

South Civilian Delegation attended the 56th National Liberation Day Ceremony in Pyongyang from 15 to 21 August


On Tuesday, August 14 North Korea proposed that a group of South Korean civilians attend the ceremony for the 56th national liberation from Japanese colonial rule as their guests. A civilian delegation group composed of social activists and religious leaders in South Korea asked its government to accept the proposal from Pyongyang. The South Korean government, however, rejected the request, saying that the venue of the ceremony, the Monument for Three Major Chapters for National Reunification in Pyongyang, might be abused for the North's political propaganda, despite the recent reconciliation trend between the North and South since the summit last year.

On the next day the South Korean government allowed the 337-member delegation, including a prominent novelist Hwang Suk-young and a former student activist Lim Soo-kyong, who served prison terms in the South for visiting Pyongyang without government's approval in 1989, to travel to North Korea at the last minute on condition that the delegation stay away from the Monument where the ceremony was supposed to take place.

The civilian delegation had several people-based meetings on themes such as peace, labor, and women, under the main theme "people-based reconciliation and interchange" during its stay in Pyongyang, besides the official meeting with the North Korean government and sightseeing tours. The delegation returned to Seoul on 21 August with fruitful results, having reached agreements with the North to follow up the 6·15 Joint Statement adopted at the summit meeting last year; to build people-based solidarity for peaceful reunification and peace-keeping independent from the countries around the Korean peninsula; to come together in Seoul for the next Liberation Day Ceremony co-hosted by both Koreas, to strengthen people-based cooperation and exchange for reconciliation and solidarity; and to continuously organize joint events against Japanese distortions about history, including Dok-do sovereignty.

However, these fruits were put into the background because of a few of trivial incidents, which happened with some unpredicted situations, and they effected the political controversy between the progressives and the conservatives in South Korea. As the North demanded that the South delegation attend a ceremony, more than 100 of the 337 delegates attended the ceremony that took place at the monument, a visit forbidden by South Korean government, in spite of the conflict within the delegation. In another episode, when the delegation visited a thatched cottage Mangyongdae where the former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung's was born, one delegate left in the visitors' book "Let's achieve unification by inheriting the spirit of Mangyongdae." This is interpreted as pro-North Korea, banned by the South's National Security Law. Upon arrival on 21 August some of the delegates were arrested by law enforcement authorities for violation of the National Security Law, resulting in ideological and political discrepancies in the South society.

These incidents are driving the Kim Dae-jung administration into difficult situation. It has been trying to revive the engagement policy with North Korea by breaking the deadlock in inter-Korean contacts that arose after the U.S.A. took a hard-line stance against the North upon Bush administration's inauguration last January. The opposition party is criticizing the government for failing to prevent the delegation from such inappropriate behavior, and is provoking the red syndrome again in collusion with the conservatives.

While the incidents of the visit caused concern about possible conflicts between the Koreas and among southerners, the first civilian delegation made a historical step for people-based reconciliation and reunification of the peninsula. It brought the two Koreas closer and induced the world to recognize the need for reunification and peace in Korea.

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