Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

North Korea Sees War Games and Christmas Tree as It Gazes across Tense Border

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

North Korea Sees War Games and Christmas Tree as It Gazes across Tense Border

Article excerpt

Some visitors to South Korea's Aegibong Peak, where a Christmas tree stands 100 feet tall, are skeptical it sends a message of peace. North Korea has denounced the war games and the tree as 'provocations.'

A freezing winter wind whips across this 500-ft.-high promontory overlooking barren North Korean countryside and a cluster of dull gray structures bereft of any sign of life.

The picture of desolation across the Han River as it flows into the Yellow Sea belies the rhetoric from both Koreas even as South Korea's forces stage brief but powerful exercises well south of the North-South line.

Visitors to the peak, in a South Korean Marine base bristling with tanks and artillery pieces, pause to peer through binoculars at the North Korean village nearly two miles away. The main attraction of the peak, however, is a 100-ft.-tall tower trimmed with hundreds of lights, topped by a crucifix.

It's a toss-up as to which is more infuriating to the North Koreans - the Christmas tree, which had not been lit for the past six holiday seasons in deference to North Korean protests, or the war games about 20 miles southeast of here. North Koreans, assuming they are lurking somewhere in the hills rolling into the distance, can see the tree as it twinkles through the night while the exercises are well out of sight and sound of North Korean forces.

North Korea has denounced both the tree and the war games as "provocations" for which the South will be "punished," but those words are relatively mild. The North Korean propaganda machine again slipped into high gear Thursday with a threat of a "holy war of justice" - complete with "nuclear deterrent."

Those words, attributed by Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency to Defense Minister Kim Young-chun, came with the qualifier that the war would begin only when needed "to cope with the enemies' actions deliberately pushing the situation to the brink of a war."

In other words, there's no reason to fear a North Korean blitzkrieg in the near future, despite the prospect of incidents such as that on Nov. 23, when North Korean artillery killed two marines and two civilians on Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea.

Some visitors to this obscure promontory, open to visitors but well off the usual tourist route, believe the lighting of the Christmas tree by the evangelical Full Gospel Church increases the danger of a shock attack that displays of massive military might can do little to deter.

"I don't think it's a symbol of peace," says the Rev. Lee Jeuk, who views himself as "an activist" pastor, as he trudges up the hill. …

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