South Korea Arrests Activist After Unauthorized Trip to North-NYT

July 9, 2012

Chow Sang-hun

The New York Times: July 5, 2012

http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/c/choe_sanghun/index.html

Korean unification: http://koreanunification.net/

 

 

A South Korean activist was arrested on Thursday after he returned from an unauthorized visit to North Korea, where he called for the reunification of the two Koreas and bitterly criticized President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea for his hard-line North Korea policy.

The activist, Ro Su-hui, 68, entered North Korea on March 24 through China to observe the 100-day mark after the death of Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, which he called “the greatest sorrow of the Korean nation,” according to the North’s state-run media. But he chose to return home by walking across the heavily guarded demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.

Defying South Korea’s anti-communist National Security Law, seven other activists since the late 1980s have made similar unauthorized visits, in a gesture that they said symbolized their wish for Korean unification. The law bans sympathizing with North Korea and punishes unauthorized visits like Mr. Ro’s with up to 10 years in prison.

Such trips touch raw emotions in South Korea, where the desire for reunification with North Korea coexists with a deep hatred and fear of the totalitarian dictatorship in Pyongyang.

Photographs in the South Korean media showed hundreds of North Koreans waving the “Korea is one” flag, which shows the Korean Peninsula, undivided, in blue on a white background, as they saw Mr. Ro off at the border on Thursday. With a flag in one hand and a bouquet of flowers in the other, Mr. Ro waved back.

As soon as he stepped across the low concrete curb that bisects the border-straddling village of Panmunjom north of Seoul, South Korean officials arrested Mr. Ro and bound him with white ropes.

“As he crossed the border, he shouted: ‘Hurrahs for the reunification of the fatherland! Koreans together!’ ” North Korea’s state-run Central Broadcasting Station reported, adding that “as the plainclothed hooligans whisked him away, roars of anger rocked Panmunjom.”

North Korea called Mr. Ro’s arrest a “fascist” act and an “antireunification racket” and threatened unspecified retaliation.

On the highway near the border, hundreds of conservative South Koreans rallied to condemn Mr. Ro as a “commie.” They burned effigies of him and Kim Jong-un, the current North Korean leader and a son of Kim Jong-il. They also displayed a coffin that they said should contain Mr. Ro.

The protesters briefly took part in a shoving match with riot police officers when they were blocked from pushing through a barricade to fight with a separate group of pro-unification activists gathered several hundreds yards away to welcome Mr. Ro. The activists called for the repeal of the National Security Law.

Mr. Ro’s visit provided a boost to Pyongyang’s propaganda campaign against the Lee government in Seoul. Under Mr. Lee, who has cut off aid until North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons program, inter-Korean ties chilled dramatically.

While in North Korea, Mr. Ro, a member of a South Korean civic group that champions Korean unification, visited the mausoleum where the bodies of Kim Jong-il and his father, North Korea’s founding president, Kim Il-sung, are displayed. He said North Koreans were following Kim Jong-un, the new leader, like a “parent,” according to North Korean media.

Meanwhile, he said, Seoul’s decision not to send a government delegation of condolence to Kim Jong-il’s funeral was “an antihumanity act of barbarity,” and called for punishing the Lee government.

His trip came at a particularly delicate time in South Korea. At the National Assembly, two progressive national legislators faced pressure to give up their seats for their involvement in an alleged vote-rigging scheme, but also for being “jongbuk,” or blindingly following North Korea, and for opposing the singing of the national anthem during state events.

In the prelude to the presidential election in December, the conservative governing party has accused the liberal opposition of harboring pro-North Korean sympathizers. The opposition parties have called the claims an election-year “witch hunt.”

The first South Korean unification activist to cross the border was Lim Su-kyung, who visited North Korea in 1989 and was jailed after returning home. She won a parliamentary seat in April and was affiliated with the main opposition party.

Ms. Lim helped fuel the conservatives’ ideological offensive when it was reported last month that she called defectors from North Korea “traitors.” She later apologized.

 

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