SEOUL, South Korea >> The South Korean Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that it would allow a Christian group to build a 30-foot tower shaped like a Christmas tree near the border with North Korea, a move likely to anger the isolated North, which had threatened to bomb a similar tower that once stood there.
In October, the South Korean military dismantled a 59-foot Christmas tower at the same site on the border northwest of Seoul, saying that the decades-old structure, which was topped by a cross, was so rusty that it had become a safety hazard. But the move angered conservative Christians and anti-North Korean activists in the South, who called it tantamount to capitulating to Pyongyang’s threats to strike the tower with artillery.
For years, the steel tower, built on a hilltop, had been illuminated during the holiday season with Christmas lights visible from North Korea, where religious freedom is repressed. It was part of the back-and-forth propaganda messaging at the border that both Koreas engaged in, especially during the Cold War.
On Tuesday, the Defense Ministry said it had accepted a request from the Christian Council of Korea to build a temporary Christmas tower at the site where the old one had stood. The new tower will be illuminated from Dec. 23 to Jan. 6, the ministry said.
"We accepted the request to protect religious activities and to honor the group’s wish to illuminate the tower in hopes of peace on the Korean Peninsula," said Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for the ministry.