Page last updated at 10:36 GMT, Sunday, 23 August 2009 11:36 UK

Kim buried as Koreas enjoy thaw


South Korea says goodbye to Kim Dae-jung

A state funeral attended by some 20,000 people has been held in South Korea for former President Kim Dae-jung.

Mr Kim won the Nobel prize in 2000 for his work to foster better relations with North Korea and his death seems to be having a similarly positive effect.

Before the funeral, South Korean leader Lee Myung-bak met senior North Korean envoys who came to offer condolences.

The meeting is being seen as a significant thaw, as Mr Lee has been denounced as a traitor by the North.

The delegation from Pyongyang brought a message from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, saying they hoped to ease bilateral problems.

While meeting many South Koreans here, I came to believe that inter-Korean ties must be improved at the earliest possible date
Kim Yang-gon
North Korean official

More than 20,000 people attended the multi-faith ceremony outside the parliament building in Seoul, said Yonhap news agency.

Most were dressed in black and wearing white paper visors to shelter from the baking heat.

In his eulogy, Prime Minister Han Seung-soo said Mr Kim, who died on 18 August after a bout of pneumonia, had been "a great leader of modern history".

"Your sacrifices, dedication and devotion allowed freedom, human rights and democracy to fully blossom in Korea, making our country today a proud and respected nation in the world," he said.

Mr Han said the democratisation of South Korea had been made possible by Mr Kim's "unwavering convictions and... unyielding courage".

John Sudworth
John Sudworth, BBC News, Seoul

The former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung was a man who, in office, attempted to build closer ties with the North.

In death, on the occasion of his state funeral, the Nobel Peace Prize winner is, it seems, providing an opportunity for the current president to do the same.

The message delivered by the North Korean delegation to President Lee Myung-bak on behalf of their leader is reported to concern "progress in inter-Korean relations".

In reply, Mr Lee is said to have explained his government's "consistent and firm principles", a reference to his insistence that the North must give up its nuclear ambitions.

Mr Kim's widow, Lee Hee-ho, led mourners in bowing in front of his portrait and before the coffin was driven through Seoul to the national cemetery.

It was only the second state funeral to be held in the history of South Korea.

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was among the foreign dignitaries in attendance.

Ms Albright said Mr Kim had been "an amazing leader" who set "a good example to people in Korea and also to the global community".

The former president pioneered the South's "Sunshine Policy" of engagement with the North and he spent his life pursuing democracy and reunification.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts to promote reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.


A spokesman for Mr Lee declined to release the wording of the message that had come from his reclusive North Korean counterpart, citing the sensitivity of the matter.

Mr Lee, right, and Kim Ki Nam in Seoul, Aug 23 (S Korea presidential house)
The half-hour meeting took place at the presidential Blue House in Seoul

But he said it explained Mr Kim's thoughts on "progress on inter-Korean cooperation".

He said Mr Lee had shared with the six visiting envoys his government's "consistent and firm" policy on North Korea, which has been to push for progress on nuclear disarmament.

After the meeting, Pyongyang's chief envoy, Kim Ki-nam said that "everything went well", although he too refused to give any details.

Talks between Unification Minister Hyun In-taek and the North Korean envoys on Saturday were the first high-level meeting between the two sides since conservative President Lee took office in February 2008, promising to take a tougher line with Pyongyang.

Relations chilled as he cut aid to the North, tying its resumption to progress on nuclear disarmament.

Earlier this year North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test and fired a long-range missile over Japan.

But more recently, there has been a series of conciliatory gestures. Two US reporters and a South Korean worker were released from detention and last week Pyongyang said it was interested in resuming cross-border tourism and industrial projects.

Some observers believe that, with UN sanctions beginning to bite, the North is keen to boost cross-border tourism and trade that bring in badly needed foreign currency, says our correspondent.

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