‘Slice to death’: angry South Korean MPs want to execute North’s Olympic delegate
South Korean lawmakers protested on Friday over a visit by a top North Korean general, claiming he is a war criminal responsible for the 2010 sinking of a warship and calling for his execution.
Kim Yong-chol will head an eight-member delegation to arrive on Sunday for the Pyeongchang Olympic Games’ closing ceremony – which will also be attended by US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, creating protocol headaches for Seoul officials.
Kim has been blamed by the South for the torpedoing nearly eight years ago of Seoul’s Cheonan corvette, with the loss of 46 lives.
Some 70 lawmakers of the conservative Liberty Korea Party staged a protest outside the Blue House, urging President Moon Jae-in to scrap the visit.
“Kim Yong-chol is a diabolical war criminal who attacked the South … He deserves death by hanging in the street,” the party’s parliamentary floor leader Kim Sung-tae insisted. “Even if the heavens split in two, we cannot allow such a heinous criminal – who must be sliced to death – to be invited to the Olympics closing ceremony.”
Unification ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said the South Korean government was aware of widespread misgivings about Kim Yong-chol’s visit to the South, but accepted it as the “chances for improving inter-Korean ties and a peace settlement might be improved”.
The Pyeongchang Olympics have seen a charm offensive by the North, which sent leader Kim Jong-un’s sister to the opening ceremony, in what seems to be an attempt to loosen sanctions against it.
US Vice-President Mike Pence was also present for the start of the Games, and sat only a few feet away from Kim Yo-jong, without acknowledging her. He had earlier visited a memorial to the Cheonan and accused the North of abusing human rights.
Officials from both Seoul and Washington say there is little or no prospect of a meeting between Ivanka Trump – a businesswoman and former model turned adviser to her father – and the North Korean representatives.
Trump arrived to a warm welcome on Friday. The visit is her first since her father became US president. Her arrival at the airport was broadcast live on television.
She told media at the airport that she was “very, very excited to attend the 2018 Winter Olympic Games [and] cheer for team USA”.
My daughter, Ivanka, just arrived in South Korea. We cannot have a better, or smarter, person representing our country.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 23, 2018
But Seoul authorities are still struggling over how to manage their presence at the same event.
“At the closing ceremony their lines of movement will not cross,” a senior Blue House official told Yonhap news agency. “Authorities are in agony over protocol and the seating plan.”
Ivanka Trump was due to arrive in the South on a commercial flight from the US on Friday afternoon, and have dinner with Moon at the Blue House.
Seoul blames the North for the 2010 sinking of the Cheonan – widely believed by the South’s government to have been ordered by Kim Yong-chol – although Pyongyang denies responsibility.
At the time he was head of the North’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, which is responsible for espionage and sabotage activities against the South. He was also blamed for the shelling of Yeonpyeong island the same year, which killed four people.
Baik insisted the sinking of the Cheonan was “certainly the North’s work” but sought to play down Kim Yong-chol’s role.
“There are limits to pinpointing those who were directly responsible”, he said.
The general is blacklisted under Seoul’s unilateral measures against the North – meaning he is subject to an assets freeze – although he is not named in UN Security Council sanctions.
In an editorial, the conservative Chosun newspaper said: “By sending Kim Yong-chol, the North is in effect insulting the South and the bereaved victims of the Cheonan.”