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Seoul reconsiders lighting Christmas towers near border

Dec. 20, 2011 - 12:06 By

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said Tuesday he will "reconsider" the plan to light Christmas tree towers near the border this week, as South Korea looks to take a low-key stance after the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Asked about the scheduled lighting ceremony during a parliamentary session, Kim Kwan-jin said, "I will reconsider the plan because it goes against the current situation."

"We haven't made a final decision on the matter," Kim said.

"But it just doesn't fit into the situation at the moment."

The South had planned to light three Christmas tree-shaped towers near the border Friday, a move that prompted North Korea to accuse Seoul of intensifying anti-communist psychological warfare.

Pyongyang also warned of an "unpredictable situation" after the tower's lighting two days before Christmas Day and said Seoul should bear full responsibility for that potential scenario.

On Monday night, hours after the North announced the passing of its leader, a South Korean military official said the defense ministry would be willing to accept any request by local religious groups to withdraw their plan to illuminate the towers.

Last Christmas, South Korea illuminated a Christmas tower on a border hill called Aegibong for the first time since 2003, when what had been an annual Christmas tradition was suspended under an inter-Korean reconciliation agreement. This year, the South had planned to erect an additional two towers near the border.

Seoul resumed the lighting ceremony in 2010 following deadly North Korean provocations in the Yellow Sea that claimed 50 South Korean lives, including two civilians.

North Korea also issued warnings prior to last year's lighting.

The glowing Aegibong tower is a symbol of prosperous South Korea that contrasts with the destitute North. Pyongyang fears bright lights could weaken its regime's ideological grip on its poverty-stricken people. Aegibong stands beside a border river, and the glowing Christmas tree structure on its peak can be seen from as far as the major North Korean border city of Kaesong.

Since the announcement of Kim Jong-il's death, the South Korean military has taken cautious steps. Though it vowed to coordinate with the U.S. on ensuring a strong defense posture against potential North Korean provocations, the military hasn't yet raised its anti-North Korea surveillance alert or its combat alert.

During Tuesday's parliamentary session, Kim Kwan-jin said it is imperative to maintain peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, stressing the need to "monitor the situation with calm and poise." (Yonhap News)


<한글 기사>

김국방 "최전방 성탄트리 등탑 점등 재검토"

김관진 국방장관은 20일 최전방 3곳에 설치키로 한 성탄트리 등탑 (종교탑) 점등과 관련해 "현재 상황과 맞지 않아 재검토할  예정"이라고 밝혔다.

김 장관은 이날 국회 국방위 전체회의에서 "최전방 3곳에 설치할 등탑을 철회하 는 것이 어떻겠냐"라는 민주당 신학용 의원의 질의에 그같이 답변했다.

국방부는 기독교 단체의 요청으로 이번 주부터 애기봉과 평화전망대,  통일전망 대 등 3곳에 등탑을 설치하고 불을 밝힐 계획이었다.

국방부의 재검토 조치는 북한을 자극하지 않겠다는 정부의 기조에 따른 것으로 분석된다.