By HYUNG-JIN KIM
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A pair of dogs gifted by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un four years ago ended up at a zoo in South Korea after a dispute over who should finance the caring of the animals.
Kim had given the two white Pungsan hunting dogs—a breed indigenous to North Korea—to then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in as a gift following their summit talks in Pyongyang in 2018. But 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 moved to a zoo run by a local government in the southern city of Gwangju on Dec. 9 after a temporary stay at a veterinary hospital in the southeastern city of Daeju, zoo officials said.
With Gwangju Mayor Kang Gijung in attendance, the dogs were shown off on Dec. 12 with their nametags around their necks as journalists and other visitors took photos.
“Gomi and Songgang are a symbol of peace and South-North Korean reconciliation and cooperation. We will raise them well like we cultivate a seed for peace,’’ Kang said, according to his office.
The dogs have six offspring between them, all of them born after they came to South Korea. One of them, named Byeol, has been raised in the Gwangju zoo since 2019. The remaining five are in other zoos and a public facility in South Korea.
Gwangju zoo officials said they’ll try to raise Byeol and her parent dogs together, though they’re currently kept separately as they don’t recognize each other.
Gomi and Songgang officially belong to state property. While in office, Moon raised them at the presidential residence. After leaving office in May, Moon was able to take them to his private home thanks to a change of law that allowed presidential gifts to be managed outside the Presidential Archives if they were animals or plants.
But in early November, Moon’s office accused the Yoon government of refusing to cover the cost for the dogs’ food and veterinary care. Yoon’s office denied the accusation, saying it never prevented Moon from keeping the animals and that the discussions about providing financial support were still ongoing.
Moon, a champion of rapprochement with North Korea, was credited with arranging now-dormant diplomacy on North Korea’s nuclear program, but also faced criticism that his engagement policy allowed Kim to buy time and boost his country’s nuclear capability in the face of international sanctions. Yoon has accused Moon’s engagement policy of “being submissive’’ 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 division in 1948. Liberal Kim Dae-jung gave two Jindo dogs—a breed native to a South Korean island—to Kim Jong Il. The North Korean dogs lived at a public zoo near Seoul before they died in 2013.