SEOUL: South Korea’s devastating ferry disaster has elicited messages of sympathy, condolence and support from around the world, with one glaring, though not wholly unexpected, exception.
North Korea has barely commented on the tragedy that has dominated global headlines since the 6,825-ton Sewol capsized and sank on Wednesday morning with 476 people on board—most them schoolchildren.
Around 45 heads of state across the political and geographical spectrum have sent personal condolence messages, including US President Barack Obama, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping.
Not a word, however, from North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un who, the North’s official KCNA news agency reported, had thoroughly “enjoyed” a performance by the popular, all-female Moranbong Band on Wednesday evening, around the time the full scale of the ferry disaster was emerging.
The only notable reference came on Saturday when KCNA ran a brief news dispatch on the accident that had “claimed many casualties.”
KCNA quoted South Korean media reports that highlighted anger among the victims’ relatives over the pace and scope of the official response to the sinking.
The only commentary from KCNA came in the form of a dig at the government in Seoul to “bear deep in its mind” the sorrow and anger of the families.
North and South Korea technically remain in a state of war, as the hostilities of the 1950-53 Korean War were concluded with a ceasefire rather than a formal peace treaty.
Their heavily militarized border remains one of extreme Cold War sensitivity, but declarations of sympathy at times of national grief are not unprecedented.
When North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il—Kim Jong-Un’s father—died in December 2011, the South Korean government offered its condolences to the North Korean people.
Pyongyang’s response to the ferry tragedy, which looks set to become one of South Korea’s worst peacetime disasters, has been met with online outrage.
“We don’t expect any support from poor guys like you but you could at least offer some words of comforts,” wrote one commentator on the popular South Korean Internet portal Naver.com.
“The whole world is expressing condolences for the victims, but what the North is doing . . . is so deplorable. Be human!” wrote another.