Nation divided over who's to blame, but united in its grief

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 June, 2004, 12:00am

Slain victim's family suffer in media spotlight

South Korea's shock and revulsion at the beheading of hostage Kim Sun-il has been fuelled by constant television replays of the grief-stricken reaction of his family on receiving the news.

Their anguish was recorded by a small cluster of journalists and cameramen who had been allowed to join the family as they kept a vigil for Kim in the tiny living room of their modest home.

The media had been shadowing the family almost constantly for more than 48 hours since the news of the Arabic translator's abduction in Iraq first broke. In South Korea there is no privacy where news is concerned.

The shocking footage showed Kim's sisters weeping uncontrollably as their mother vainly wiped their faces with a pink hand towel. His father, Kim Jong-kyu, sat on the floor in the corner of the room with a blank expression, unable to take in the news of the death of his only son.

Kim, a 33-year-old devout Christian, was one of the family's eight children.

After the news had sunk in, Kim's mother was taken to hospital suffering from shock.

A small shrine was set up in the living room laden with food and incense in the family's hope it would speed their son on his journey to the afterlife.

At the top of the shrine was a large graduation photo of Kim, which just a day before had been a focal point of his parents, the only link with their abducted son.

The pain of the family was all the more acute after they had earlier been given a glimmer of hope, when a 24-hour deadline for Seoul to commit to a troop pullout came and went without any apparent action by the kidnappers. There were reports after the deadline that he was still alive.

'How could he be dead, when only yesterday the government said that he was alive,' said the grieving father.

He said he felt betrayed by the government and that the media could not be trusted either.

Outside the house in the southern city of Pusan, neighbours angrily tore down Iraqi flags and notices written in Arabic which stressed that South Korea had no animosity towards Iraq and that the two countries were friends. Officials had hung them in the hope that television stations would broadcast their message to Kim's captors.

Opinion in the country was strongly divided as to who was to blame, but hours after the death South Koreans were at least united by their grief.