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Dogs gifted by North’s Kim resettle in South Korean zoo

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, stayed at a veterinary hospital in the southeastern city of Daeju before they were moved to a zoo run by a local government in the southern city of Gwangju last Friday, zoo officials said.

With Gwangju mayor Kang Gijung in attendance, the dogs were shown off yesterday with their nametags around their necks as journalists and other visitors took photos.

A pair of dogs, Gomi (L) and Songgang, are unveiled at a park in Gwangju, South Korea. PHOTO: AP

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 Gwanju 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 recognise 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.

Moon, a champion of reconciliation with North Korea, was credited with arranging now-dormant diplomacy on North Korea’s nuclear programme, 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.