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S. Korean activist pays respects to Kim during illegal visit to N. Korea

All Headlines 10:27 December 28, 2011

SEOUL, Dec. 28 (Yonhap) -- A progressive South Korean civic activist paid her respects to late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the North's state media said Wednesday, defying South Korean law that bans unauthorized trips to the communist state.

Hwang Hye-ro, a 35-year-old researcher based in France, arrived in Pyongyang Saturday via Paris and Beijing, according to a pro-North Korean group in Seoul.

The South's Supreme Prosecutors' Office has said it will press criminal charges against Hwang if she returns to South Korea after the trip. She could be punished under the National Security Law, which bans all activities sympathizing with the North, including visits that are not approved by the government.

"Hwang Hye-ro paid a silent tribute in humblest reverence to the bier of Kim Jong-il before viewing it," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said, reporting one day after the event took place. "Hwang wrote in the condolence book that she prayed for the soul of Chairman of the National Defense Commission Kim Jong-il who devoted himself to national reconciliation, unity and reunification of the country."

Hwang also visited the North in 1999 to attend a unification ceremony. She later served two and a half years in jail for that unauthorized trip.

Pyongyang is set to hold a funeral for Kim later Wednesday. North Korean media reported on Dec. 19 that the 69-year-old leader died of heart failure during a train ride two days earlier.

South Korea has allowed only two prominent citizens with ties to the North to pay tribute to Kim. Lee Hee-ho, the 90-year-old widow of late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, and Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun returned from a two-day trip to Pyongyang on Tuesday, after paying their respects to the late North Korean leader and expressing condolences to his youngest son and successor Kim Jong-un.

The late President Kim received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts to improve inter-Korean ties, while Hyun's late husband and former chairman of Hyundai Group pushed for cross-border economic projects. North Korea sent separate condolence delegations to the funerals of both men.

hague@yna.co.kr
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