The widow of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, the author of a now-jettisoned engagement policy with North Korea, crossed the fortified land border between the two sides on Monday to pay her respects to deceased dictator Kim Jong-il.
Ties between the North and South have been frozen since the election of conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in 2008, who cut aid in a bid to force the North to abandon a nuclear programme and bring it to the negotiating table.
A thirteen-member delegation, led by Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former president Kim Dae-jung who masterminded the so-called "Sunshine Policy" of engagement with the North, crossed the border by car and will pay their respects at the bier of Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang.
"I hope my visit to North Korea will help improve South-North Korea relations," Yoon Chul-koo, an aide to Lee, quoted her as saying at an immigration office at the southern border of the De-Militarized Zone.
Lee, who met Kim Jong-il in Pyongynag in 2000 in the first inter-Korean summit since the end of the Korean War in 1953, will stay for two days and will not attend the Dec. 28 funeral.
Most South Koreans are banned from going to the North under the current government’s policy and South Korea, which remains technically at war with the North, is not sending an official delegation to mourn Kim, who died earlier this month.
Asked by reporters at the crossing point whether the delegation plans to meet North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, Yoon said the visit was for "pure condolence."
Kim Jong-un, who is in his late 20s, is the third of his line to rule the impoverished North, although he is likely to share power with a coterie.
A second group of mourners from South Korea led by the widow of one of South Korea’s biggest conglomerates that has investments in the North was also headed to Pyongyang.
Hyun Jeong-eun, the wife of the Hyundai business group’s late former chairman Chung Mong-hun, led a delegation of five people.
Hyun’s father-in-law was Hyundai founder Chung Ju-yung, who established Hyundai Asan Corp in 1999 as a major investor in North Korea’s Mt. Kumgang tourist resort busness.
The business has been suspended since the fatal shooting in 2008 of a South Korean tourist at the resort.
Hyundai Asan is also involved in the Kaesong Industrial Park project in the North, one of the impoverished North’s few sources of foreign currency.