GWANGJU, South Korea – Scores of South Koreans chanted "We are one!" as a North Korean delegation arrived Wednesday to celebrate the anniversary of a 2000 summit that moved the rivals toward reconciliation.
The South Koreans, who also waved flags depicting a unified peninsula, greeted the delegation of 148 North Koreans at the airport in Gwangju.
An Kyong Ho, head of North Korean civilian delegation, has drawn criticism in South Korea for recent reported remarks blasting South Korea's opposition Grand National Party. The staunchly anti-communist party won big in local elections last month, boosting its chances to retake the presidency in next year's vote.
The South's Unification Ministry expressed regret Tuesday over An's comments but said it hadn't taken any action in response to the GNP's request to block his entry into South Korea.
An remained unapologetic Wednesday toward the conservative party, telling The Associated Press in brief comments that the GNP has criticized the June 15 joint statement issued at the 2000 summit calling for cooperation and reconciliation.
Many of those pledges made have gone unfulfilled, including a promise by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to travel to the South for a return summit.
The 2000 summit in Pyongyang touched off a series of cross-border projects such as a pilot inter-Korean industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong, but tensions linger over the North's refusal to abandon its nuclear weapons program, hampering full-fledged economic cooperation.
There have also been recent indications that North Korea may be preparing to test a long-range missile. South Korea has urged the North against such an inflammatory move, and the U.S. ambassador to Seoul warned of American countermeasures in case of a test launch.
Such a test "would be viewed as a very serious matter and we would have to take appropriate measures in response," Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said in an interview with South Korea's KBS radio, declining to elaborate.
Despite the tension, the North Koreans sought to start their four-day visit on a lighter note, with officials praising the South Korean national soccer team's 2-1 win over Togo on Tuesday at the World Cup.
Kim Young Dae, who leads a 20-member North Korean government delegation, later exchanged greetings with South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok, Seoul's chief government delegate for the celebrations.
This week's events mark the anniversary of the summit between then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the first and only such meeting.
Kim Dae-jung won the Nobel Peace Prize for the summit. He plans to visit Pyongyang later this month for talks with the North's leader.
Gwangju, about 200 miles southwest of Seoul, was the scene of a harshly suppressed uprising against Seoul's former military dictatorship. Some 60 North Koreans on Wednesday visited a national cemetery in Gwangju where the dead from the 1980 uprising are buried.
"To realize the will patriots left behind, we should well implement the June 15 joint declaration, open the door of unification and walk toward the path of prosperity," Kim Young Dae said before touring several tombs.
About 10 anti-North Korean activists rallied along the route of the buses carrying the North Koreans. One banner bearing the picture of Kim Jong Il and a hunger-stricken child read: "Will you stand on the side of a dictator or stand on the side of the human rights of people?"