The US, Japan, South Korea and leading European nations on Thursday boycotted a minute’s silence at the UN General Assembly demanded by North Korea for late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
The UN tribute was the highest-profile international move sought yet by the North’s government as it seeks global recognition for the hardline leader who died last Saturday at the age of 69.
The awkward silence was a “protocol” move following a North Korean request, according to UN General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser.
Many diplomats from countries which took part in the protest called the tribute “inappropriate.” They said the UN Security Council turned down North Korea’s demand for a gesture to the late strongman.
North Korean UN ambassador Sin Son-ho and another diplomat from the North Korean mission stood with their heads bowed during the silence, but barely a third of the General Assembly’s 193 members were present.
Britain, France, Germany and most members of the 27-nation EU joined the protest.
“It is my sad duty to pay tribute to the memory of the late Kim Jong-il,” al-Nasser said at the start of the assembly session.
He listed Kim’s official titles — head of the ruling Workers Party, head of the military commission and supreme commander of the North’s military — before calling on the North’s ambassador “to convey condolences to the government and the people” of North Korea.
Al-Nasser called on all envoys “to stand and observe a minute of silence in tribute to the memory of the late leader.”
While Kim’s isolated country has been whipped into mass grief, many foreign nations have sought to avoid officially offering condolences.
“This is a man who is responsible for probably tens of thousands of deaths. He is not a model for the UN,” said one European diplomat, explaining the boycott.
“It is an embarrassment that we will have to put up with,” commented on Asian diplomat.
All diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of relations with North Korea.
Meanwhile, North Korea accused South Korea of an “intolerable” response to Kim Jong-il’s death.
Pyongyang’s official media says millions were braving bitter cold to mourn the “Dear Leader” after his sudden death last Saturday — and South Koreans are welcome to join the condolences.
Its Uriminzokkiri Web site said any mourning delegations from the South would be accepted, and it lashed out at the Seoul government’s “inhuman” decision to allow only two such visits.
Uriminzokkiri’s comments, dated Thursday and seen yesterday, seemed to suggest no immediate change in frosty cross-border ties.
South Korea said there would be no government delegation to offer condolences, but authorized two groups to pay respects.
North Korea said the South was blocking visits and trying to escalate confrontation by strengthening security.
“These are intolerable actions of mockery and insult against our dignity,” it said on the Web site.
The Web site described Seoul’s ban on most delegations as an “unacceptable, uncivilized and inhuman action” that could have a “significant impact” on relations.