A pair of dogs donated by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un four years ago ended up in a South Korean zoo after a dispute over who should fund animal care.
Kim had given the two white Pungsan hunting dogs – a breed originally from North Korea – to then South Korean President Moon Jae-in following talks at the Pyongyang summit in 2018. But the liberal Moon gave up the dogs last month , citing a lack of financial support for the canines from the current Conservative government led by President Yoon Suk Yeol.
The dogs, named Gomi and Songgang, were transferred to a zoo run by a local government in the southern city of Gwangju on Friday after a temporary stay at a veterinary hospital in the southeastern city of Daeju, zoo officials said.
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In the presence of Gwangju Mayor Kang Gijung, the dogs were displayed on Monday with their tags around their necks as reporters and other visitors took pictures.
“Gomi and Songgang are a symbol of peace and South-North Korean reconciliation and cooperation. We will nurture them as well as we nurture a seed for peace,” Kang said, according to his office.
The dogs have six children between them, all born after their arrival in South Korea. One of them, named Byeol, has been raised in Gwangju Zoo since 2019. The other five are in other zoos and a public facility in South Korea.
Gwangju Zoo officials said they will try to raise Byeol and his parents together, although they are currently kept apart because they do not recognize each other.
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Gomi and Songgang officially belong to the state property. While in office, Moon raised them in the presidential residence. After leaving office in May, Moon was able to take them to his private home thanks to a change in the law that allowed presidential gifts to be handled outside the Presidential Archives whether they were animals or plants.
But in early November, Moon’s office accused Yoon’s government of refusing to cover the costs of food and veterinary care for the dogs. Yoon’s office denied the allegation, saying it never stopped Moon from keeping the animals and that discussions about providing financial support were still ongoing.
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Moon, a proponent of rapprochement with North Korea, has been credited with organizing now-dormant diplomacy over North Korea’s nuclear program, but has also faced criticism that his engagement policy has bought Kim time and increase his country’s nuclear capability in the face of international sanctions. Yoon accused Moon’s engagement policy of “subservience” to North Korea.
In 2000, Kim’s late father, Kim Jong Il, gifted another pair of Pungsan dogs to then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung after their meeting in Pyongyang, the first inter-Korean summit since their split in 1948. The liberal Kim Dae-jung gave two Jindo dogs – a breed originally from an island in South Korea – to Kim Jong Il. The North Korean dogs lived in a public zoo near Seoul before he died in 2013.