12/21/2012, 00.00
KOREA

Korea, Christmas tree returns to border with North

by Joseph Yun Li-sun
The tradition halted in 2003 on the basis of a cooperation agreement between Seoul and Pyongyang. This year, the outgoing government of Lee Myung-bak grants permission: "At least the border guards will be able to enjoy a little bit of religious freedom."

Seoul (AsiaNews) - After a gap of nine years, the giant Christmas tree is back on the border between the two Koreas. The outgoing government of Lee Myung-bak, who will be replaced by the newly elected Park Geun-hye, has granted some Christian churches permission to install the giant lit tree near the military demarcation line. The tradition was interrupted in 2003 as part of an agreement on inter-Korean cooperation.

This was announced by the spokesman of the Ministry of Defence, Kim Min-seok, who spoke immediately after the announcement of Park's victory: "The tree will be lit from December 22 to January 2 and will be illuminated in order to be able to provide guards North of the border at least a little religious freedom". A Protestant congregation in Seoul will take care of the arrangements.

Kim said "the government wants to continue the tradition that was interrupted in 2003 as part of a reconciliation agreement with the communist government." The agreement remained in force despite Pyongyang's military increasingly pressing provocations: in 2010, some Christian groups had prepared a huge tower, but that was demolished a year after the death of Kim Jong- il.

There is no religious freedom in North Korea. The few places of worship open in Pyongyang "smokescreens", buildings that are shown to the few visitors allowed in the country where, however, no religions are practiced. The Christian population was decimated after the division of the peninsula at the end of the Korean War, and the taking of power by Kim Il-sung. AsiaNews sources speak of "not more than 200 thousand Catholics" left in the country.

 

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