Former South Korean first lady Lee Hee-ho has arrived in North Korea for a rare four-day visit. Her official itinerary includes visiting a maternity clinic, an orphanage and a children's hospital.
Although her visit is humanitarian in nature, there was much speculation about a possible meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Last year, he personally invited Lee to visit North Korea after thanking her for sending condolence flowers on the third anniversary of the death of his father, Kim Yong Il.
The 92-year-old former first lady expressed her wish to ease tensions between the two Koreas.
"I hope that this will offer a window for more dialogue, exchange and cooperation," Lee was quoted as saying by her spokesman as she embarked on her journey to North Korea. "I am going to visit Pyongyang with hopes that Koreans can ... heal the wounds and pain of the past 70 years of division."
No official message from South Korean government
Meanwhile, Seoul underlined that the former first lady's visit was a personal one and she was not carrying an official message from the South Korean government.
Her husband, Kim Dae-Jung, who died in 2009, is remembered for his policy of engagement with isolated North Korea. The policy led to a historic summit with Kim Jong Il in 2000. The South Korean won the Nobel Peace Prize later that year. However, the policy of rapprochement with Pyongyang was largely abandoned when a conservative administration took power in South Korea in 2008.
The visit of the former first lady comes just ahead of the 70 anniversary of the liberation of the Korean peninsula from Japanese colonial rule on August 15, 1945. There had been hopes that the anniversary could serve as an opportunity for a resumption of dialogue, but the two Koreas did not agree on any joint celebratory event.
das/sms (AP, AFP)