REPORTING FROM SEOUL -- South Korea on Tuesday finally figured out the answer to a tangled question prompted by the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il: whether to offer condolences to a nation that for years has aimed short-range missiles at the South's homes and businesses.
The topic was the center of discussion on Monday as Seoul residents wondered if they should momentarily bow their heads in a gesture of humanity or throw a parade at news of the death of the dictator, who died of a heart attack Saturday at the age of 69.
On Tuesday, Seoul decided to take the high road -- taking a step toward reconciliation -- as officials said they would allow the families of prominent South Koreans with ties to the North to visit there, if they are given the opportunity.
North Korea has said that no visiting foreign dignitaries will be allowed to enter the country during an 11-day period of mourning, but it was unclear whether that ban included South Korean nationals.
South Korea's unification minister, Yu Woo Ik, told reporters in Seoul that no official delegation will travel to Pyongyang to pay respects.
But he said the government will allow visits to the North by the families of former President Kim Dae-jung, who held a landmark summit with Kim Jong Il in 2000, and former Hyundai Asan Chairman Chung Mong-hun, who had business ties with North Korea.
Yu added that he will ask Christian groups to refrain from lighting giant steel Christmas trees near the border of the two countries, acts that have angered North Korean officials in the past.
-- John M. Glionna
Photo: Unification Minister Yu Woo Ik said Tuesday that South Korea's official expression of condolences after the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il would not be accompanied by a delegation being sent to Pyongyang. Credit: EPA