DMZ Christmas display shelved again to avoid North Korea provocation
SEOUL — In the spirit of love and peace, the Demilitarized Zone will not be lit up like a Christmas tree this holiday season as it has in years past.
The Military Evangelical Association of Korea had sought approval from the South Korea Ministry of National Defense to light three giant towers in the shape of Christmas trees at different points about two miles south of the North Korean border.
However, the request has been withdrawn in the wake of protests from South Koreans who live near the DMZ, who said they were afraid the displays might prompt the North to fire in the direction of the lights, especially given the added incentive it might have to cause trouble in advance of the South’s Dec. 19 presidential election.
“The meaning of Christmas is that Jesus Christ came to this world in order to deliver … love and peace,” Evangelical Association pastor Kim Dae-duck said. “We thought it best that we not provide a reason for North Korean provocation.”
The lighting of a Christmas tree tower on a hill near the DMZ was an annual event for years until 2004, when the practice was suspended as part of an agreement between the two Koreas not to spread propaganda near the border during a period of relative calm in relations on the peninsula.
However, in the wake of the North’s 2010 sinking of a naval ship and the shelling of a border island — attacks that left 50 South Koreans dead — the South gave the go-ahead for a resumption of the border tree-lighting.
Officials said the 100,000-light, 100-foot-tall display on Aegibong Hill was likely visible as far away as Kaesong, one of the North’s most populated border cities.
In 2011, the South Korean government approved plans for three such displays near the DMZ.
A North Korean state-run Web site called the planned displays a form of “psychological warfare” and warned there would be “unexpected consequences” if the coalition of South Christian groups went ahead with the tree lightings.
The 2011 displays were ultimately canceled in consideration of North Korea’s official period of mourning in the wake of the December death of Kim Jong Il.