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    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong, a senior official of North Korea's ruling party, center, speaks to South Korean presidential national security director Chung Eui-yong, second from left, and a lawmaker Park Ji-won, left, near the condolence flowers for former South Korean first lady Lee Hee-ho at the northern side of the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Wednesday, June 12, 2019

    Kim Yo Jong’s Respects to Former South Korean First Lady Unlikely to Renew Inter-Korean Talks

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    The visit by Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, to the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea Wednesday to deliver condolences over the death of a former South Korean first lady may be interpreted as a reciprocal gesture, Henri Feron, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, told Sputnik.

    Lee Hee Ho, a women's rights activist and wife to the late South Korean president Kim Dae Jung, died at the age of 97 late on Monday after battling liver cancer. Lee died at a hospital in the South Korean capital of Seoul, her aides confirmed.

    “Lee Hee Ho was a feminist and reunification activist, but she was also the wife of a famous opponent to South Korean dictatorship who ended up becoming the president of his country,” Feron told Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear host John Kiriakou on Wednesday.

    “That opponent is Kim Dae Jung. It’s under Kim Dae Jung that the first ever inter-Korean summit happened, and that was 19 years ago,” he noted.

    “At that time, Lee accompanied her presidential husband as first lady, and she won the trust of the North as a defender of Korean reunification,”  Feron explained. “She [has] particular respect in the North because in 2012 she led the delegation to Pyongyang for the funeral of [former] North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. At the time, the conservative South Korean government had refused to send an official delegation, so the North interpreted Lee’s trip as a courageous and sincere reconciliatory move on her part.” 

    According to reports, Kim Yo Jong traveled to the village of Panmunjom, just north of the de facto border between North and South Korea, Wednesday to deliver a wreath of flowers to senior South Korean officials. She also told South Korean officials that Lee was very “dear” to her brother’s heart.

    “Condolences have a highly symbolic and political meaning in inter-Korean relations,” Feron explained. “Korea is historically a Confucian country, and as such [has] continuously attached deep importance to respect for the deceased. Failing to observe the proper forms has already derailed inter-Korean relations in the past … The way we should interpret the current condolences is that it is a way for the North to honor the memory of Lee for having [reciprocated in the past]. I would not however evaluate it as a sign that inter-Korean talks will resume.”


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