Go to contents

Lies Surround Former Spy Chief’s Pyongyang Visit

Posted February. 16, 2008 04:29,   


Controversy is brewing over a monument erected in front of a tree that President Roh Moo-hyun planted in Pyongyang during the inter-Korean summit last October.

Former National Intelligence Service Director Kim Man-bok`s explanation regarding the erecting of a commemorative monument differs from that of Cheong Wa Dae. Kim resigned for leaking a transcript of his dialogue with his North Korean counterpart Kim Yang Gon, whom he met in Pyongyang one day before South Korea’s presidential election last year, to the media. He, however, claimed that the purpose of leaking the information was to dispel suspicion that his visit was intended to influence the outcome of the election.

о Story Outline

On October 4, 2007, the last day of the second inter-Korean summit, President Roh planted a pine tree at the Pyongyang Central Botanic Garden to commemorate the historic meeting.

Although North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was scheduled to join the event, he changed his plans at the last minute. Instead, he had Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of Supreme People’s Assembly, participate in the ceremony for him.

On December 18, 2007, a day before the presidential election, Kim Man-bok secretly visited the communist regime to install a 70-kilogram stone marker for the tree that President Roh had planted.

However, a media report raised suspicions on Thursday by claiming that then-spy agency chief Kim actually came back to Seoul with a 250-kilogram commemorative stone. The news article said that North Korean authorities rejected the stone marker complaining that it was too big.

о Cheong Wa Dae Changes Its Story

Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Cheon Ho-seon told the press on Thursday, “We took a commemorative stone engraved with the names of the two Korean leaders because both were expected to participate in the tree planting ceremony. But since Kim was absent, we simply had to bring it back.”

According to sources, the North strongly opposed the idea of setting up a stone marker, given it is not a common practice there. However, the North eventually allowed the Southern delegates to bring it along with them in response to the South’s persistence.

Cheon explained that the South could not install the marker because Kim Jong Il did not participate in the tree planting ceremony.

However, it was revealed on Friday that the larger stone that was initially taken to Pyongyang only had President Roh’s name on it. In this regard, Cheon made an apology saying that he was misinformed.

“It is a custom in North Korea not to engrave the name of Kim Jong Il on commemorative stones. Thus, we concluded on September 30, 2007, just a few days before the inter-Korean summit, that we should bring a stone marker with only President Roh’s name engraved on it, regardless of Kim Jong Il’s participation in the event,” Cheon said.

The spokesman added, “I was not fully aware of the situation because the first stone marker was prepared by the secretary of the presidential protocol office and the latter one was prepared by the NIS.”

о Why Was It Remade into a Smaller Size?

It turned out that the two markers have no significant difference except for size. The phrase “In Pyongyang in October 2007” was changed to “In commemoration of visiting Pyongyang from October 2 to 4, 2007.” But it was the only change made. Thus, questions linger over the purpose of making a smaller stone.

Cheon said on Friday, “We were belatedly informed of the place to plant the tree on the night of October 2, 2007. When we went to the site, North Korean officials told us that the stone was slightly too big and did not fit with the surrounding scenery. That’s why we agreed to discuss the matter at a later date.” He added, “The NIS later reduced the size after consulting with its Northern counterpart, the United Front Department of North Korea.”

Cheon’s explanation was completely different from the one he had made a day earlier.

Questions also remain over why the NIS chief had to go to Pyongyang in person to install a smaller marker.

“Former NIS chief Kim probably made his own decision to visit Pyongyang,” a senior government official said.

Though some speculate that Kim visited Pyongyang a day before the election to live up to expectations from Cheong Wa Dae and President Roh, who wants his name immortalized in the capital of the reclusive country, questions still remain as this does not fully explain his actions.