A Christian group in South Korea has cancelled plans to light Christmas trees near their border with North Korea as a goodwill gesture toward the country following the death of Kim Jong-il.
North Korea had threatened “unexpected consequences” if the group lit the display, which could be seen easily from North Korean cities along the DMZ border.
Tak Sejin, a spokesman for the Yoido Full Gospel Church and one of the organizers of the effort, said the decision to remove the displays was a gesture of compassion.
“Kim’s death may not be something we should care about. But it is natural … that we mourn and express condolences for anyone who dies,” Tak said to Stars and Stripes. “So, we decided not to (light the displays) as a Christian show of love and peace.”
The South Korean government recommended to the Christian groups that they forgo lighting the displays as a security measure.
After hearing of the original plans to light the trees, North Korean news agency Uriminzokkiri called the plan a “mean attempt for psychological warfare.”
South Korea claimed the trees represent their country’s freedom of religion and expression. However, North Korea promised that if the trees were lit that they would retaliate.
"The enemy warmongers... should be aware that they should be held responsible entirely for any unexpected consequences that may be caused by their scheme," it said in a notice published by Uriminzokkiri.
Uriminzokkiri added that the lighting was considered an act of propaganda, as residents of the communist North Korea are given only repackaged and highly regulated information – information the North’s government purports to be true.
The two countries had reached an agreement in 2004 that forbade either side from promoting religious or political ideas within eyesight of the other country.
But South Korea lit the tree last year following repeated attacks from the North. After suspicions that North Korea sunk a South Korean war ship, killing 46 people, and attacked an island killing four South Koreans, policy makers in Seoul appear no longer interested in appeasing their northern neighbors.
North Korea accused the South of trying to convert its people and soldiers to Christianity with last year’s Christmas lights display.
North Korea has claimed that it has a large stock of artillery, which is already aimed at South Korea, and which is fully capable of taking out the trees.
North Korea has a long history of persecuting Christians, who make up about 1.5 percent of the population. Open Doors, an organization raising awareness of persecuted Christians, claims that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians are currently detained in North Korean prison camps.
Open Doors put North Korea at the top of its list of the countries where Christians are most persecuted.