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ROK's ex-first lady begins DPRK visit

Updated: 2015-08-06 07:40
By Xinhua in Seoul (China Daily)

The widow of the Republic of Korea's late president Kim Dae-jung arrived in Pyongyang on Wednesday afternoon for her four-day visit to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea amid remaining cross-border tensions.

The DPRK's state-run KCNA News Agency reported that Lee Hee-ho arrived in Pyongyang in the afternoon. Lee and her 18-member entourage are scheduled to return home on Saturday.

Lee Hee-ho departed from an airport in Seoul at about 10 am local time by a chartered plane of a ROK low-budget airline.

The 93-year-old former first lady flew to Pyongyang along the direct air route, specially approved by DPRK leader Kim Jong-un - such flights were banned after the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in armistice, not in peace treaty. The ROK and the DPRK remain technically at war.

Lee's husband, Kim Dae-jung, was known for his signature "sunshine policy" of reconciliation with the DPRK, leading to the first inter-Korean summit in 2000 in Pyongyang with Kim Jong Il.

The June 15 joint declaration was issued by the two leaders after the historic summit. Lee accompanied Kim to the summit in 2000.

Lee's spokesman quoted her as saying at the airport in Seoul, "I leave for Pyongyang with a hope that our people (of the ROK and the DPRK) heal the wounds and pain of the 70-year division and reconcile and cooperate with each other with the June 15 spirit."

It was her third trip to the DPRK. The last one was for the funeral of late DPRK leader Kim Jong Il, father of current leader Kim Jong-un, in December 2011 when Lee visited Pyongyang to offer her condolences.

On this trip, Lee is set to visit a children's hospital, a maternity home and an orphanage in Pyongyang. Her entourage includes no politicians or sitting government officials.

Seoul's unification ministry in charge of inter-Korean affairs has said that Lee would visit Pyongyang in a personal capacity and that the ministry hadn't asked her to deliver any government message to the DPRK.

Speculation remained that Lee could meet with DPRK leader Kim Jong-un as the young leader invited her to his country last year.

(China Daily 08/06/2015 page11)

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