S. Korea’s ‘enemy cemetery’ desolate

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“No names,” she said in a phone interview with the Associated Press in China. So she burned paper “spirit money,” bowed before a mass grave and made offerings of fruit and alcohol.

“Let it be for all the Chinese soldiers who are buried there,” said Ms. Qin, who later asked a friend to bring her soil from the cemetery, which she plans to take to her father’s hometown as a memorial to him.

She’s grateful South Korea has a place for its former enemies, but she’s disappointed there’s no way to know if her father is among them.

Hope for improvement

Only a few people visit the cemetery each day. During a recent visit by Associated Press journalists, the burial mounds were littered with cigarette butts, possibly used in lieu of incense offerings by Chinese visitors.

Some South Koreans want to do more. Local resident Kim Dong-hun is pushing for private development of the cemetery, hoping it could increase tourism and also be a site of pilgrimage for the Chinese.

Mukgai, a South Korean who goes by his Buddhist name and plans soon to become a monk, conducted a 108-day prayer session at the cemetery this year, and plans to build a small temple there and hold a concert.

“Offering the highest-level respect to the dead is a heroic act,” he said.

Gyeonggi province, which has jurisdiction over the cemetery, discussed a renovation plan with Defense Ministry officials earlier this year.

But provincial officials later shelved the idea because of worries over a possible conservative backlash ahead of December’s presidential election. Provincial officials who attended the meeting spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss it with the media.

The Defense Ministry declined to comment.

Complications

Tensions between the Koreas remain high since the sinking of a South Korean warship and a North Korean artillery strike on a border island in 2010.

Pyongyang has threatened several times in recent months to attack Seoul, and its April rocket launch, said by North Korea to be a peaceful attempt to send a satellite into space, was widely seen as a test of its long-range missile capabilities.

Further complicating the cemetery’s fate is that not all who are buried here died in the Korean War.

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