December 24, 2011 / 1:06 PM / 8 years ago

Former South Korean first lady to go North to mark Kim's death

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea said on Saturday a former first lady and the chairwoman of the giant Hyundai business conglomerate will be permitted to cross into North Korea next week to join ceremonies marking the death the North’s leader, Kim Jong-il.

A spokesman for the South Korean Unification Ministry said Lee Hee-ho, the widow of late president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kim Dae-jung, will lead a 13-member delegation for a two-day trip from Monday. Kim died a week ago.

The ministry also said Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, the wife of the business group’s former chairman Chung Mong-hun, will lead another five-member delegation to Pyongyang.

The South Korean government has said it will allow the two delegations to make the trip to the communist North because Pyongyang sent groups to Seoul to mark the deaths Kim Dae-jung and Chung.

However the delegations will not attend Kim Jong-il’s funeral, scheduled for Wednesday, and no government officials, politicians or other prominent figures will accompany them.

Kim Dae-jung, who died in 2009, reopened ties while he was in office from 1998 to 2003, culminating in a historic meeting with Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang in 2000. He was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Chung was the fifth son of the Hyundai founder Chung Ju-yung, who established Hyundai Asan Corp. in 1999, a major investor in North Korea’s Mt. Kumgang tourist resort business.

The business has been suspended since the fatal shooting in 2008 of a South Korean tourist at the resort.

Lee Hee-ho, widow of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, watches as people pay tribute to her late husband at a memorial altar at the National Assembly in Seoul August 22, 2009. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Hyundai Asan is also involved in the Kaesong Industrial Park project in the North, one of the impoverished North’s main sources of foreign cash.

Seoul sent a message of sympathy to the North Korean people after Kim Jong-il’s death, although the North denounced South Korea for not extending official condolences.

North and South Korea are technically still at war, with the 1950-53 ending in a ceasefire rather than a formal armistice.

Reporting by Sung-won Shim; Editing by Paul Tait

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