A South Korean activist was arrested when he returned home after a rare walk across the DMZ.
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - A South Korean activist was arrested Thursday after he returned from an unauthorized visit to North Korea, where he called for the reunification of the two Koreas and bitterly criticized South Korean President Lee Myung-bak for his hard-line policy toward the North.
The activist, Ro Su-hui, 68, entered North Korea on March 24 through China to attend observances of the 100-day anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader, which he called "the greatest sorrow of the Korean nation," according to the North's state-run media. But he chose to return home by walking across the heavily guarded demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.
Trips trigger raw emotions
Defying South Korea's anti-Communist National Security Law, seven other activists since the late 1980s have done that in a gesture they said symbolized their wish for reunification. The law bans sympathizing with North Korea and punishes those making unauthorized visits with up to 10 years in prison.
Such trips trigger raw emotions in South Korea, where the desire for reunification with the North coexists with a deep hatred and fear of the dictatorship in Pyongyang.
On Thursday, hundreds of North Koreans waved the "Korea is one" flag, which shows a blue undivided Korean Peninsula on a white background, as they saw off Ro at the border. With the flag in one hand and a bouquet of flowers in the other, Ro waved back.
As soon as he stepped across the low concrete curb that forms the demarcation line bisecting the border village of Panmunjom, South Korean officials arrested him and bound him up in white ropes.
"As he crossed the border, he shouted, 'Hurrahs for the reunification of the fatherland! Koreans together!'" North Korea's state-run television Central Broadcasting Station reported. "As the plainclothed hooligans whisked him away, roars of anger rocked Panmunjom."
North Korea, calling Ro's arrest a "fascist" act and a "anti-reunification racket," threatened unspecified retaliation.
On the highway near the border, hundreds of conservative South Koreans rallied to condemn Ro as a "Commie." They burned effigies of him and Kim Jong Un, the current North Korean leader and son of Kim Jong Il. They also displayed a coffin that they said should contain Ro.
The protesters briefly engaged in a shoving match with riot police when they tried to push through a barricade to fight with a separate group of pro-unification activists.
Ro's visit provided a boost to Pyongyang's propaganda campaign against the Lee government. Under Lee, who has cut off aid until North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons program, inter-Korean ties have chilled dramatically.
While in North Korea for 104 days, Ro, a member of a South Korean civic group that champions Korean unification, visited the mausoleum where the bodies of Kim Jong Il and his father, North Korea's founding president, Kim Il Sung, are displayed. He said North Koreans were following Kim Jong Un, the new leader, like a "parent," according to North Korean media.
Meanwhile, he said, Seoul's decision not to send a government delegation of condolence to Kim Jong Il's funeral was "an anti-humanity act of barbarity," and he called for punishing the Lee government.
The first South Korean unification activist to cross the border was Lim Su-Kyung, who visited the North in 1989 and was jailed after returning. She won a parliamentary seat in April. Lim helped fuel the conservatives' ideological offensive when it was reported last month that she called defectors from North Korea "traitors." She later apologized, saying she didn't mean it.