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Even in death, Kim Dae-jung unites Koreas

Written By vibykhmer on Sunday, August 23, 2009 | 10:04 PM


A hearse containing a body of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, moves past the mourners after the state funeral for Kim, at the Seoul Plaza in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2009. Tens of thousands of mourners filled the lawn outside parliament for the state funeral Sunday of ex-President Kim Dae-jung, a longtime defender of democracy and advocate of reconciliation who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to reach out to communist North Korea.(AP Photo/ Yonhap, Ha Sa-hun)

Lee Hee-ho, right, widow of the late former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, cries after she offered a flower to Kim before a burial, after the state funeral at the National Cemetery in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2009. Tens of thousands of mourners filled the lawn outside parliament for the state funeral Sunday of ex-President Kim Dae-jung, a longtime defender of democracy and advocate of reconciliation who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to reach out to communist North Korea.(AP Photo/Jo Yong-Hak, Pool)

Lee Hee-ho, center, widow of the late former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, and other family members cover Kim's coffin with earth for a burial, after the state funeral at the National Cemetery in Seoul Sunday, Aug. 23, 2009. Tens of thousands of mourners filled the lawn outside parliament for the state funeral Sunday of ex-President Kim Dae-jung, a longtime defender of democracy and advocate of reconciliation who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to reach out to communist North Korea.(AP Photo/Jo Yong-Hak, Pool)

REFILE - CORRECTING SENTENCE STRUCTURE Honour guards and workers lower the coffin of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung into the ground during his state funeral at the National Cemetery in Seoul August 23, 2009. Kim, who was awarded the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize for brokering the first summit between the leaders of the two Koreas that led to a dramatic warming of ties, died on Tuesday at the age of 85. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

Honor guard soldiers carry the coffin of the late former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung for a burial, followed by Kim's family members after the state funeral at the National Cemetery in Seoul Sunday, Aug. 23, 2009. Tens of thousands of mourners filled the lawn outside parliament for the state funeral Sunday of ex-President Kim Dae-jung, a longtime defender of democracy and advocate of reconciliation who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to reach out to communist North Korea.(AP Photo/Jo Yong-Hak, Pool)

Honour guards carry the coffin of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung for his burial during a state funeral at the National Cemetery in Seoul August 23, 2009. Kim, who was awarded the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize for brokering the first summit between the leaders of the two Koreas that led to a dramatic warming of ties, died on Tuesday at the age of 85.REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

South Korean Buddhist monks pray during the funeral of the late former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2009. Tens of thousands of mourners filled the lawn outside parliament for the state funeral Sunday of Kim, a longtime defender of democracy and advocate of reconciliation who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to reach out to communist North Korea.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

A vehicle putting up a portrait of late former South Korean Presiden Kim Dae-jung leads a hearse during the state funeral for Kim Dae-jung, at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2009. Tens of thousands of mourners filled the lawn outside parliament for the funeral Sunday of ex-President, a longtime defender of democracy and advocate of reconciliation who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to reach out to communist North Korea. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

The hearse containing the body of former South Korean president Kim Dae-Jung passes by city residents during his state funeral in downtown Seoul, August 23. Kim Jong-Il had sent the envoys to Seoul to join national mourning for former president Kim, who pioneered the "sunshine" policy and held the first inter-Korean summit in 2000. (AFP/POOL)

By JEAN H. LEE, Associated Press Writer

Sun Aug 23, 2009

SEOUL, South Korea – In death as in life, Kim Dae-jung managed to bring the two rival Koreas together.

Hours before his funeral Sunday, North Korean officials dispatched to Seoul to pay their respects to the Nobel Peace Prize winner held talks with South Korea's president — the first high-level inter-Korean contact after many months of tension.

They relayed a message about bilateral relations from North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during a half hour of "serious and amicable" talks with President Lee Myung-bak, Lee's spokesman said.

It was a fitting breakthrough on a day of mourning for a man who made history by traveling to Pyongyang in 2000 to meet Kim Jong Il for the first summit between leaders of the two countries.

"Farewell, Mr. Sunshine," read yellow placards held up by mourners who packed the plaza outside City Hall on Sunday to watch a broadcast of his funeral at the National Assembly. Kim died Tuesday at the age of 85.

The two Koreas technically remain in a state of war because their three-year conflict ended in 1953 with a truce, not a peace treaty. Tanks and troops still guard the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone bisecting the peninsula.

Kim Dae-jung, however, was respected on both sides of the border. As president from 1998 to 2003, he advocated a "Sunshine Policy" of engaging the isolated North and sought to ease reconciliation by plying the impoverished nation with aid.

In 2000, he traveled to Pyongyang for the summit with Kim Jong Il. Raising their hands aloft in a sight that would have been unimaginable just years earlier, the two Kims pledged to embark on a new era of peace on the Korean peninsula.

The following years saw a blossoming of reconciliation projects, including the emotional temporary reunions of thousands of family members separated by the Korean War, the restoration of a cross-border cargo train and inter-Korean business ventures.

Some criticized the flow of money to North Korea, which has evaded years of international pressure to dismantle its nuclear program.

Relations have been tense since Lee, a conservative, took office in February 2008, abandoning the Sunshine Policy and insisting that North Korea must prove its commitment to international nuclear disarmament pacts before it can expect aid.

Pyongyang, in response, ditched the reconciliation talks and most of the inter-Korean projects and routinely excoriated Lee in state media as "scum" and a "traitor" to Korean reconciliation.

The North also has been locked in an international standoff with the U.S. and other nations over its atomic ambitions after launching a rocket, test-firing missiles and conducting an underground nuclear test this year.

However, there have been signs the tensions may be easing. After welcoming former President Bill Clinton during his mission to secure the release of two jailed American reporters, the North freed a South Korean citizen held for four months. Pyongyang also said it would allow some joint projects to resume.

Kim Dae-jung's death prompted condolences from Kim Jong Il, who authorized the high-level delegation of six to pay their respects — the first time the North has sent officials to mourn a South Korean president.

Led by senior Workers' Party official Kim Ki Nam and spy chief Kim Yang Gon, the delegation went straight to the National Assembly mourning site Friday to leave a wreath on behalf of Kim Jong Il and bow before Kim's portrait.

Extending their trip by a day, three North Korean officials met Sunday morning with Lee, relaying Kim Jong Il's thoughts on "progress on inter-Korean cooperation," presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said. He declined to quote the exact message, citing the sensitivity of the matter.

The South Korean president then detailed his government's "consistent and firm" policy on North Korea and reiterated the need for "sincere" dialogue between the two Koreas, the spokesman said.

"We're returning in a positive mood," Kim Ki Nam told reporters before departing.

Hours later, a somber funeral took place at the National Assembly, where Kim — who endured torture, death threats and imprisonment during his decades as a dissident — triumphantly took the oath of office as South Korea's president in 1998.

Though best known abroad for his efforts to reach out to North Korea, Kim Dae-jung was admired at home for devoting his life to the fight for democracy during South Korea's early years of authoritarian rule.

A native of South Jeolla Province in the southwest, he went up against Seoul's military and political elite. He narrowly lost to Park Chung-hee in a 1971 presidential election — a near-win that earned him Park's wrath. Weeks later, Kim was injured in a traffic accident he believed was an assassination attempt, and barely survived a Tokyo abduction engineered by South Korean intelligence.

In 1980, tens of thousands took to the streets in Kim's southern stronghold, Gwangju, to protest the junta that seized power when Park was assassinated in office. Kim, accused of fomenting the protests, was sentenced to death.

International calls for leniency resulted in a suspended prison sentence, and he went into exile. Returning in 1985, he helped usher in a new era of democracy in South Korea.

"We love you, Mr. President Kim Dae-jung. We will not forget you," read one banner outside the National Assembly. "Democracy, peace, human rights: We will carry out your will, Mr. President," read another. Yellow ribbons and balloons lined the street leading to parliament.

Memorials nationwide for the man dubbed the "Nelson Mandela of Asia" for his lifelong struggle for democracy attracted some 700,000 people, the government said.

Prime Minister Han Seung-soo praised Kim in a eulogy as a passionate leader who dedicated his life to democracy, human rights, peace and reconciliation. He recalled Kim's resilience during the hard fight for democracy, and his skillful handling of the financial crisis of the late 1990s.

"Today we are overwhelmed with heartbreaking grief and sorrow. The whole of Korea is truly overcome with great sadness," Han said at the multifaith ceremony held under a blistering sun.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was among the dignitaries who joined more than 20,000 for the funeral at parliament. Another 14,000 mourners gathered outside City Hall to watch a broadcast of the ceremony, police said.

"My heart feels so empty. I'm so sad," said Kim Nam-yeop, 53. "He is someone who sacrificed his entire life for democracy, North-South Korean peace, and our economy."

Kim was buried at the national cemetery in Seoul, a blanket knit by his widow and a Bible tucked into his coffin.

"I hope you'll leave with the spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness," his wife, Lee Hee-ho, told mourners at City Hall. "This is my husband's last wish."

___

Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim, Nicolai Hartvig and Wanjin Park contributed to this report.

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