North Korea Leadership Watch

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Han Sang Ryol Delays Return

Han Sang Ryol, an priest and political activist who has been in the DPRK for two months, tours the West Sea Barrage in Namp'o in August, 2010. The DPRK has announced that Han's return to the ROK was posponed until 20 August (Photo: KCNA)

The DPRK has not offered any official word on the squid fishing boat and 7 crew members seized in the East Sea last Sunday (8 August), but the DPRK’s Red Cross has informed its ROK counterpart that Han Sang Ryol has postponed his return to the South by five days.  Han was originally set to leave on 15 August (Sunday), which is also the anniversary of the liberation of the Korean Peninsula, but his departure has been delayed by five days.  Han Sang Ryol is a 60-year old priest and political activist from the ROK who traveled to Pyongyang on 12 June through Beijing.  He has spent the last two months in the DPRK as a guest of the state, making numerous public speaking and media appearances, touring the country and posing for many photographs.

A South Korean pastor, who has been on an unauthorized trip to North Korea, has delayed his planned return home until Aug. 20, according to Pyongyang’s state media Saturday.

Rev. Han Sang-ryol had planned to come back to the South via the heavily armed border on Sunday, Liberation Day, which marks Korea’s independence from Japan’s colonial rule. He has been in the North since June 12, reportedly giving speeches denouncing South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

On Saturday, the North’s Red Cross notified its South Korean counterpart that Han will return home on Aug. 20 through the border village of Panmunjom, according to Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency. The KCNA gave no reason why the planned return has been postponed.

The North’s Red Cross “asked the South Korean Red Cross to inform the relevant institution of this so that it may take necessary measures,” the KCNA said.

Officials in Seoul said Han will be arrested as soon as he steps on South Korean soil.

JoongAng Ilbo reports on the legal ramifications once Han returns to his home country.  This report was written prior to the announcement that Han’s return was delayed.

According to the prosecution officials, an arrest warrant for Han has already been issued on the charges of violating the ban on South Koreans visiting North Korea without permission and violating the National Security Law for anti-government remarks he made while in the North.

The Lee administration is “committing anti-reunification and treacherous crimes by cutting off inter-Korean relations,” Han was quoted as saying in Pyongyang, referring to Seoul’s trade sanctions following the sinking of the Cheonan.

North Korea’s Red Cross has sent a letter to its South Korean counterpart requesting safe passage for Han on his return.

Analysts suspect that the North may use Han to exert pressure on Seoul.

North Korea may demand that South Korea not arrest Han in return for releasing the South Korean fishing boat Daeseung 55 and its seven sailors captured last weekend, according to observers.

The North’s notification of Han’s return was received hours after the South sent a message through the Red Cross asking for the immediate return of the Daeseung 55. The North has not yet commented on the vessel’s capture.

A plan by Han to cross through Panmunjom without an agreement by the UN Command is a clear violation of the armistice, said a Unification Ministry official. Han, a co-founder of the Korea Alliance for Progressive Movement, a pro-unification civic group, entered the North on June 12 through the North Korean embassy in Beijing.

Dong-a Ilbo reports on the political and cultural circumstances that will greet Han’s return.  Like the report above, it was published prior to the announcement that Han’s return was delayed.

To welcome Han’s return, the civic organization and two other groups will hold Sunday morning a prayer meeting for peace on the Korean Peninsula and improvement in inter-Korean relations at the parking lot of Imjingang Station in Paju, Gyeonggi Province.

Representatives of the groups told reporters at the United Christian Center in a statement Thursday, “The Rev. Han visited North Korea to improve inter-Korean relations. So his visit shouldn’t be seen as pro-North Korea or praising the North,” adding, “We urge the prosecution to withdraw its plan to prosecute him.”

For their part, conservative groups will hold events blasting Han’s visit near the Unification Bridge in Munsan, Gyeonggi Province. They will stage a performance in which a person playing Han will be bound with a rope and sent back to the North.

A council on restoration of national identity comprising conservative organizations such as the Korea Freedom Federation spoke to reporters Friday at the Korea Press Center. “The government should sternly punish pastor Han for breaking the law and assisting anti-government activities by leftist organizations like the People’s Solidarity for Social Progress.”

Bong Tae-hong, head of the conservative group Right Korea, said, “We cannot sit idly by and watch progressive groups hold welcome rallies for the Rev. Han. We will take counteraction by holding a news conference right next to them.”

The expected clash between conservatives and progressives has put police on high alert. National Police Agency Commissioner General Kang Hee-rak held an emergency meeting Friday to deploy 1,500 police officers to areas near Imjingak Sunday to prevent trouble.

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This article was written on 14 Aug 2010, and is filled under DPRK External Relations, DPRK Red Cross Society, Inter-Korean Relations, Uncategorized, United Front Department.

An affiliate of 38 North