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
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
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