Former US President George W Bush on Tuesday accused North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il of wasting his country’s precious resources on personal luxuries and nuclear weapons programmes.
North Koreans have been suffering since the Korean War ended, Bush told a prayer meeting to mark the 60th anniversary of the war’s outbreak.
“While South Korea prospers, the people of North Korea have suffered profoundly,” he said, adding communism had resulted in “dire poverty, mass starvation and brutal suppression”.
“In recent years the suffering has been compounded by the leader who wasted North Korea’s precious few resources on personal luxuries and nuclear weapons programmes.”
Organisers said the event at Sangam World Cup Stadium in Seoul drew about 60,000 people. A giant South Korean flag was placed on the ground, with the stage decorated with slogans such as “Over division to peace”.
Bush described North Korea as part of an “axis of evil” in his 2002 State of the Union address and suspended negotiations with it.
He re-engaged with the North during his second term in office and approved a six-nation agreement under which Pyongyang would give up nuclear weapons in return for diplomatic and security incentives, but the accord has since broken down.
Bush, a devout Christian, described the 1950-53 conflict as an unforgotten war, saying “an act of unprovoked aggression” had led to an unnatural division in Northeast Asia.
“It will never be forgotten by those who served and by those who were saved, and it must not be forgotten by the world,” he said.
The presence of US troops in South Korea showed Washington’s strong commitment to defending its ally, he said, adding the South’s prosperity is “a shining example of the power of freedom and faith”.
But some local Christian organisations, including the Christian Alliance for Church Reform, criticised Bush’s presence at a time when cross-border tensions are high.
“It is just nonsense to bring to the Korean War prayer meeting the former US President Bush, who started the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and have him give testimony,” they said in a joint statement.
They also insisted the prayer meeting should serve as a means to oppose war, demand arms reduction and promote reconciliation.
Bush has visited South Korea twice since leaving office to speak to forums, in August and October 2009.