Idea of Seoul Condolences for Kim Ignites an Uproar


The mere idea that South Korean President Kim Young Sam might express condolences to North Korea on the death of leader Kim Il Sung--as President Clinton and Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama did--sent shock waves through mainstream society here.

On Wednesday, the National Assembly members who made the suggestion apologized, one after another, while the opposition Democratic Party disavowed itself from the proposals for the fourth time.

The uproar emphasized how far from reconciliation the two halves of a nation with 4,300 years of history remain after 49 years of division and a bloody war launched by Kim Il Sung that killed more than 1.1 million people.


On Monday, Rep. Lee Bu Young, a deputy leader of the opposition party, asked the South Korean unification minister if the government would dispatch a mission to Kim Il Sung’s funeral Sunday and express its condolences. Three other opposition legislators followed with similar questions.

But after a storm of protest phone calls to the party’s headquarters, Lee on Wednesday issued a statement saying that he had not intended to suggest “mourning for Kim Il Sung’s death.”

“Rather, by showing our generosity and intent to seek reconciliation, my questions aimed to have South Korea take the initiative in promoting South-North dialogue,” he said. “It is a strategic necessity to contact the new government in the North as soon as possible.

“Mourning for Kim Il Sung may lead to the theory that is often heard to justify the Korean War as a national liberation war,” ruling Democratic Liberal Party spokesman Park Bum Jin said. “I don’t think our people will accept this distortion of history.”

Officials said the government never considered offering condolences.

Several Democratic Liberal Party representatives also have criticized Clinton’s condolences, as have members of the U.S. Republican Party. More than 50,000 Americans died in the Korean War.

Murayama, meanwhile, was expected to face sharp questions about his message of condolence when he visits Seoul on July 23-24. His Socialist Party has long favored North Korea over South Korea and maintained friendly ties with Kim Il Sung’s Korean Workers’ Party.