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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The son of a deceased North Korean religious leader will visit the DPRK this week in what will be the first by a South Korean since April, the Ministry of Unification (MOU) announced on Monday.
Choi In-guk is the second son of Ryu Mi Yong, chairwoman of the Central Committee of the Chondoist Chongu Party, who died of lung cancer at the age of 95 in November last year.
“The Ministry of Unification approved the application by Choi In-guk to attend his mother’s memorial ceremony marking the first-year anniversary of her death and visit her grave,” Baik Tae-hyun, a spokesperson for the ministry, told media during a regular news briefing.
Choi is scheduled to be in Pyongyang from Wednesday to Saturday, attending a memorial ceremony hosted by the Chondoist Chongu Party – one of the DPRK’s only minor political parties.
“We approve Choi’s visit to North Korea on humanitarian grounds so that he is able to visit her grave on the occasion of mother’s first-year anniversary of the death,” an MOU official told local media.
South Korean citizens were last in North Korea in April, when the ROK’s Women’s Football Team traveled to Pyongyang to play their DPRK counterparts.
The MOU confirmed to NK News that Choi had received an invitation from the North Korean side and had asked Seoul to grant permission for the visit.
The JoongAng Ilbo reported that the Chondoist Chongu Party had sent the invitation, which included a guarantee of personal safety – details the MOU declined to confirm when contacted by NK News.
Choi made a week-long trip to the DPRK when his mother died in November last year, the first by a South Korean citizen that year.
During a televised interview with JTBC TV network in 2013, Choi said that the 1986 defection of his parents had caused him great emotional difficulty.
Ryu met her son during a visit to the South in 2000, as part of a delegation of North Koreans separated from their families in the South.
She was a major figure in the North, with Kim Jong Un having reportedly sent a wreath to her bier to express “deep condolences over her death.”
Her “public funeral,” was attended by high-ranking officials, and a KCNA report on her death lionized her as a “patriotic political figure who devoted herself to the prosperity of the nation and independent reunification of the country.”
A member of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the DPRK and a deputy to the SPA, in May 2016, KCNA released a statement by Ryu calling for a movement for national reunification.
The only daughter of Ryu Tong Yol, a famous independence fighter and politician who Seoul believes was abducted by the North during the Korean War, she later married Choe Deok-sin, who served as South Korean foreign minister between 1961 and 1963.
She emigrated to the United States in 1976, before defecting to the North in 1986 with her husband.
Since the inauguration of Moon Jae-in in May, Pyongyang has consisted rejected requests by South Korean citizens to visit the country.
Most recently, a request by Hyundai Asan to visit the formerly inter-Korean-run Mount Kumgang resort was rejected.
The group had hoped to mark the 14th anniversary of the death of Chung Mong-hun, the former chairman of the company.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Uriminzokkiri