Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) -- A 30 meter (100 foot) tower that’s been hung with lights in the shape of a Christmas tree will be defended against possible attack from the North, Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin told lawmakers in Seoul today.
“We’ll retaliate decisively to take out the source of any shelling,” Kim said at a National Assembly defense committee meeting.
A South Korean church turned on Christmas lights covering the metal tower, near the border between the two Koreas, before 6 p.m. local time, Kim Han Soo, a pastor and spokesman for Yoido Full Gospel Church, which organized tonight’s ceremony, said when contacted by telephone. About 400 people were watching the event, guarded by about 80 soldiers, he said, with an ambulance and fire engine also present.
“Those soldiers seemed to remain on alert,” said Kim. “By the time we left the site, those soldiers were still there. I didn’t notice any unusual move on the other side.”
The lighting of the tower near the border is part of “psychological warfare” between the two countries, South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported on Dec. 15. Kim said the significance of the tree, which was decorated by a South Korean church, is religious, not political.
The tower hasn’t been lit up since 2004, according to the Korean-language newspaper report. North Korea, which suffers from energy shortages and relies on outside handouts to feed its 24 million people, had demanded the tower be demolished, JoongAng said at the time.
The church requested South Korea’s military authority to carry out today’s event after a seven-year suspension, said Kim. “We decided to resume this ceremony to spread God’s love and peace to brothers and sisters in North Korea,” Kim said.
The annual ceremony began in 1954, though it was discontinued when the South and North Koreas agreed to halt acts of “propaganda” in 2004, according to Kim reading the Church’s statement.
South Korea in May began radio broadcasts that can be heard in North Korea, ending a six-year moratorium on propaganda, after an international panel concluded the North torpedoed the warship Cheonan, killing 46 sailors.
North Korea yesterday held back from acting on a threat to retaliate against South Korea artillery drills held on an island in disputed waters along the two nation’s western sea border.