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N Korea at crossroads

Kim Jong Un sends flowers to South Korea to mourn former first lady

North Korean leader's sister hands bouquet and letter over at border

Kim Yo Jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister, left, visits Panmumjom on June 12. (Photo courtesy of Unification Ministry of South Korea)

SEOUL -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent a letter and flowers to South Korea Wednesday to express his condolences to the family of former First Lady Lee Hee-ho who passed away earlier in the week.

Lee's late husband, Kim Dae-jung, was South Korea's president between 1998 and 2003. A women's rights activist, Lee had been chair of the Kim Dae Jung Peace Center since 2009 after her husband's death. She died of natural causes on Monday night.

Kim Yo Jong was sent to the truce village of Panmunjom, bearing the letter and flowers from her brother, the North Korean leader. She handed the items to Democratic Peace Party Representative Park Jie-won, who was chief of staff to Lee's late husband.

South Korea's presidential Blue House National Security Office Director Chung Eui-yong and Vice Unification Minister Suh Ho accompanied Park to the truce village.

"Director Kim Yo Jong said that [North Korea] wants to continue to cooperate with South Korea, by following in the footsteps of First Lady Lee Hee-ho who fostered harmony in the nation," said Chung after the exchange.

Talks between the North and South have stalled since February when the second U.S.-North Korea summit collapsed in Hanoi with no agreement.

Lee is survived by two sons. She left a will that contained this message: "I appreciate our people who loved my husband President Kim Dae-jung and me. I wish our people will lead happy lives by loving each other and living in harmony. I will pray for our people and peaceful unification of the nation."

Lee was a leader in the first generation of South Korean feminists. She helped set up the Presidential Commission on Women's Affairs in 1998 which turned into the Ministry of Gender Equality in 2001, according to Kim Dae Jung Peace Center.

Thousands paid their respects at the funeral home at Severance Hospital in western Seoul. They include Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, former First Ladies Kwon Yang-sook and Rhee Soon-ja, and Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong.

President Moon Jae-in and First Lady Kim Jung-sook are not able to attend the funeral as they are visiting  Scandinavian countries. "It is a blessing that we had a first lady who was warm like a mother and yet, strong like iron," said Prime Minister Lee.

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