South Korea lays to rest top North Korean defector

AP News
|
Posted: Oct 14, 2010 8:42 AM
South Korea lays to rest top North Korean defector

South Korea held a funeral Thursday for a high-profile North Korean defector who once tutored autocratic leader Kim Jong Il, with officials praising his efforts to resolve rights abuses in his communist homeland.

Hwang Jang-yop, a key architect of North Korea's state policy of isolationism and self-reliance, was found dead Sunday at his Seoul home at the age of 87. Hwang was one of North Korea's most powerful officials when he shocked the world by defecting to South Korea in 1997 via China and the Philippines.

After arriving in South Korea, Hwang wrote books and delivered speeches condemning Kim's regime as authoritarian. He lived under tight police security amid fears of assassination attempts by North Korean agents.

An initial examination of Hwang's body showed no signs of foul play, though final autopsy results have yet to be released.

"Now, we face a sad moment of parting with a great teacher of this era," veteran conservative lawmaker Lee Hoi-chang said in a funeral speech Thursday. "We will make more efforts to realize Hwang's last wish to achieve democracy and people's freedom in North Korea as well as national unification."

About 300 government officials, politicians and fellow North Korean defectors paid respect to Hwang by laying white flowers _ a traditional symbol of mourning in South Korea _ and bowing before his framed photo. Later Thursday, several hundred activists and defectors separately offered a silent tribute, burned incense and chanted anti-Pyongyang slogans at a makeshift mourning site in Seoul.

Hwang's body was later buried at a national cemetery south of Seoul.

Earlier this week, Hwang was posthumously decorated with a top government medal for his efforts to bring democracy to the North and disclose the reality of life in the authoritarian country.

Hwang had been close to North Korean founder Kim Il Sung _ the father of current leader Kim Jong Il _ and had tutored the younger Kim about the country's guiding "juche" philosophy of self-reliance. Hwang, however, said he decided to leave the North because he lost hope for the hard-line communist country, which became unable to feed its own people under Kim Jong Il's rule.

North Korea reportedly vowed revenge against Hwang, calling him a betrayer. Earlier this year, two North Korean army majors were sentenced to 10 years in prison in South Korea for planning to assassinate him. North Korea has denied the plot.

Recommended
FBI, You Don’t Have That Right
Bruce Bialosky

On Thursday, North Korea's state media issued a commentary calling Hwang's death a "divine punishment" for "the world's ugliest traitor."

South Korea's mourning of "the human garbage" was an "unsightly farce that we cannot bear to see," the government-run Uriminzokkiri website said in a commentary.

In South Korea, not all were satisfied with how the conservative government of President Lee Myung-bak handled Hwang's death.

"Hwang was North Korea's representative theorist who formulated its juche policy," the liberal Hankyoreh newspaper said in an editorial Thursday. "We cannot say he has nothing to do with the crisis North Korea faces now."

The two Koreas are still technically at war because their 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Hwang had a wife, two sons and a daughter in North Korea before his defection, and media reports have said they subsequently received unspecified punishment.