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Former South Korean First Lady Arrives in North Korea for Trip Aimed at 'Treating Pains of National Division'

( [email protected] ) Aug 05, 2015 12:20 PM EDT
Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, has traveled to North Korea for a four-day trip in an attempt to help ease cross-border tensions.
Former first lady Lee Hee-ho (R), widow of late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, arrives at Gimpo Airport in Seoul, South Korea, August 5, 2015. Lee, widow of Kim who was well known for his pro-North Korea policies, leaves for North Korea to make a rare visit to the reclusive state by Kim Jong Un's invitation. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, has traveled to North Korea for a four-day trip in an attempt to help ease cross-border tensions.

"I go to Pyongyang in hopes of treating the pains and wounds of national division, and in hopes the people [of North and South Korea] would resume peaceful exchanges in the spirit of reconciliation and cooperation of the June 15 declaration," Lee said, according to South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.

According to ABC News, Lee, 93, was personally invited in a handwritten note by North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un, and is accompanied by 18 delegation members, including former Culture Minister Kim Sung-jae and Paik Nak-chung, professor emeritus at Seoul National University.

Before departing for the North, the former culture minister echoed Lee's sentiments, saying that the trip was designed to deliver a "message of reconciliation and cooperation."

"She is going to Pyongyang, hoping that Koreans in both nations can love one another and peacefully move across the border, as they work together to heal the scars of the 70 years of national division, and reconcile and cooperate based on the spirit of the June 15 joint declaration," Kim told reporters at Gimpo International Airport in western Seoul.

A pro-Pyongyang news outlet in Japan reported North Korea's Asia-Pacific Peace Committee Vice-Chairman Maeng Kyong Il "warmly received" Lee at Sunan Airport on Wednesday, where a ceremony recently was held in commemoration of a newly built terminal.

According to the Korea Herald, Maeng, who visited Seoul in 2009 to attend the funeral of the late former President Kim, is one of the key figures in the North who have dealt with cross-border relations, indicating that Pyongyang regards Lee's visit as an important state affair.

In 2000, then-president Kim Dae-jung met with former North Korean leader Kim Jong Iland together they signed the June 15th Joint Declaration that committed Seoul and Pyongyang to easing tensions on the Korean peninsula. This month, the two countries also mark the 70th anniversary this month of their liberation from Japan's colonial rule.

Despite this, tensions remain high between the two Koreas due to a series of nuclear tests and missile launches by the North and occasional military clashes.

The Guardian notes that while such visits are extremely rare, Lee has visited the North three times, the last trip being to pay respects during the funeral of Kim Jong-un's father, the late leader Kim Jong-il, in December 2011. At the time, Lee briefly met with Kim Jong-un while he was receiving mourners. However, it is unclear whether she will meet with him this trip.

The BBC reported that Lee's visit is to include stops at a maternity clinic, an orphanage and a children's hospital in Pyongyang.