Unification News for May 1998

Little Angels Perform in North Korea

from combined dispatches

South Korea's Unification Ministry announced on Saturday, April 25 that it had approved an application by the Little Angels to perform in Pyongyang, North Korea, May 2-12, staging three shows.

The cultural group's visit was arranged between the South's Korean Cultural Foundation and the North Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee.

The cultural foundation said it received an invitation from the North Korean committee on April 13 following talks in Pyongyang earlier in the month.

North Korea sent an invitation for the Little Angels to perform in Pyongyang four years ago but the trip was canceled as inter-Korean dialogue came to a halt over tension over North Korean nuclear project issues.

A KCF statement said, "We received a grant from the North on April 13 to perform in Pyongyang this year and hope the performance by these beautiful children will become the cornerstone in opening a new era of peace and harmony with the North."

The statement said the art troupe will perform South Korean folk dances and traditional songs as well as "Amazing Grace"' and "We are the World."

The Little Angels art troupe, founded in 1962, is comprised of 200 elementary and middle school performers and has held 5,000 musical events in over 50 countries. A total of 68 people including Bo Hi Pak, president of the cultural foundation, and 30 technical and administrative staff arrived in Pyongyang via the Chinese capital, Beijing.

On May 3 the youth art troupe received a warm welcome, raising hopes for improved ties between the two hostile nations, sponsors of the visit said.

Pyongyang's official media said the "Little Angels troupe arrived in Pyongyang Saturday and was warmly greeted by officials concerned with compatriotic feelings." "Schoolchildren in the city gave them bouquets and flowers, hardly repressing their joy at the emotional meeting with the fellow schoolboys and girls from South Korea," said the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

It was the first private cultural group from Seoul to visit Pyongyang. The two Koreas, still technically at war following the 1950-53 Korean conflict, exchanged visits by state-run art troupes during a brief thaw in 1985.

Dr. Bo Hi Pak, head of the Federation for World Peace, led the troupe in a series of meetings with North Korean officials and other people on Saturday and Sunday.

The visit followed North Korean President Kim Jong Il's letter, released by Pyongyang last week, which called for South and North Korea to exchange visits and improve relations.

KCNA quoted Kim as saying that "all the Koreans in the North, South and abroad must visit one another, hold contacts, promote dialogue and strengthen solidarity."

Seoul saw Kim's letter as "somewhat meaningful" and eased restrictions on inter-Korean business exchanges.

"As a whole, there is nothing new in the letter. But it is meaningful at this time since North Korea is calling for dialogue with the South despite the collapse of talks in Beijing," a South Korean official said.

The two sides last month held their first official government contact in nearly four years to discuss economic aid and exchanges. But the Beijing talks broke down after the North refused to agree to a specific timetable for the reunion of families separated since the division of the peninsula in 1945.

The Unification Church is using an invitation for its song-and-dance troupe, the Little Angels, to perform in the North as an opportunity to talk about investment, church officials told the International Herald Tribune.

The day before the departure of the Little Angels troupe, the South Korean government removed the $5 million ceiling on investment in the North by South Korean companies and did away with the $1 million limit on machinery sent north to build factories.

The new rules permit South Korean companies to engage in any type of business in the North except those classified as strategic defense industries, including electronics, aeronautics and computer science. The government also decided to grant multiple permissions to go to the North for South Koreans with business interests there. "Our business dialogue with the North will resume," Dr. Pak said. Dr. Pak cited fields ranging from machinery to soft drinks to tourism as possibilities for investment by Tongil. "On our behalf, I will talk about business possibilities," he said. He is leading the entourage that includes 38 performers, all girls aged 9 to 14, and 30 adults. "We know the North is eager for South Korean investment," said Jean-Jacques Grauhar, who spent seven years as a business consultant in Pyongyang before moving to Seoul five years ago.

The fact that Dr. Pak, who helped found the ensemble in 1962 and the Washington Times newspaper in 1982, can go from South to North Korea on such a mission symbolizes a shift in South Korea's outlook since President Kim Dae Jong took office in February. Dr. Pak angered a previous South Korean administration by attending the funeral of Kim Il Sung and meeting with his son, Kim Jong Il.

Threatened with arrest under South Korea's national security law for unauthorized contact with the North, he did not return to Seoul from his residences in Tokyo and Washington until about a year ago, after receiving assurances that he would not have to face charges.

A North Korean performing arts group plans to visit Seoul, reciprocating a recent visit to the communist North by a choir from the South, a Seoul-based newspaper reported on May 12. The Segye Times, in its Wednesday edition, quoted an official of the Little Angels choir, which returned after performing in the North, as saying a basic agreement has been reached with a North Korean student art troupe.

It said details would be discussed later this year.

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