S. Korea scraps border Christmas lights plan

SEOUL - South Korea on Tuesday scrapped a plan to display Christmas lights near the border with North Korea in a conciliatory gesture to its neighbour as it mourns the death of leader Kim Jong-Il.

Unification Minister Yu Woo-Ik, who is in charge of cross-border ties, said that Seoul has postponed the plan because of the mourning period.

He expressed hopes that the North would return to stability as soon as possible so that the two Koreas can cooperate for "peace and prosperity".

The announcement followed a meeting of foreign affairs and security ministers including Defence Minister Kim Kwan-Jin, who said earlier the government would reconsider the plan to display Christmas lights in view of the situation.

The communist North had furiously objected to the displays on three towers, which were to be switched on Friday, calling it "psychological warfare" by its capitalist neighbour.

South Korean church groups had planned to display the lights from December 23 to January 6 on three tree-shaped steel towers atop military-controlled hills near the border.

The hills are within three kilometres (two miles) of the frontier and within range of North Korean gunfire.

The two Koreas in 2004 reached a deal to halt official-level cross-border propaganda and the South stopped its annual Christmas border illuminations, a symbol of prosperity as well as of a religious festival.

Seoul resumed the display last December after a shelling attack by the North on a border island killed four South Koreans the previous month.

North Korea before Kim's death warned of "unexpected consequences" if Seoul displayed Christmas lights this year and vowed unspecified retaliation.

The North has previously accused the South of displaying Christmas lights to spread Christianity among its people and soldiers.

Its constitution provides for religious freedom but the US State Department says this does not exist in practice.