South Koreans pay respects to Kim Jong Il

The delegation, including Lee Hui-Ho (center), the widow of late South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung, depart for North Korea.

Story highlights

  • Kim Jong Un greets the civilian delegation
  • The group is led by a former first lady and the widow of an industrial tycoon
  • The visit comes at a delicate point in relations between the two Koreas
  • Pyongyang announced Kim Jong Il's death on December 19, putting the region on edge

A delegation of South Koreans traveled to the Communist North Monday to pay their respects to the late leader Kim Jong Il, lying in state at Kumsusan Memorial Palace.

The 18-member civilian delegation was led by Lee Hui-ho -- the widow of the former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at nurturing reconciliation between the two Koreas -- and Hyun Jeong-eun, the widow of Chung Mong-hun, the former chairman of Hyundai Group who pushed for heavy industrial investments in the North.

"I hope this helps improve North and South relations," Lee said in a statement read by one of her aides prior to her departure at the border.

The South Koreans arrived in Pyongyang after passing through the Kaesong Industrial Park, just to the north of the demilitarized zone that separates the two countries, reported the Korean Central News Agency, the North's official news agency.

North Korea's new leader Kim Jong Un greeted the delegation in Pyongyang, said a statement from the Unification Ministry.

The delegation plans to stay overnight.

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The visit comes at a delicate point in relations between the two Koreas.

The death of Kim Jong Il, announced by Pyongyang on December 19, has put the region on edge, as the world waits to see how the leadership succession will play out in the secretive regime.

Seoul expressed its sympathy to the North Korean people and gave the green light to Lee and Hyun's group to visit the North. But it said it will not send an official delegation to pay respects to Kim Jong Il.

Pyongyang sent delegations to South Korea when the former president Kim and the former Hyundai chairman Chung died in 2009 and 2003 respectively.