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Nun's aides tell cardinal she's too weak to talk

by Hong Joo-hee, JoongAng Daily, February 03, 2005

Seoul, South Korea -- Against a backdrop of growing concern over the deteriorating condition of a Buddhist nun, who is on a hunger strike to save the habitat of an amphibian, Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan tried yesterday to visit her, but was turned away.

Aides to the nun, known as the Venerable Jiyul, said the Catholic leader could not speak with her because her health had declined so much.

Instead, Cardinal Kim talked with Beomryun, a monk who is caring for Jiyul. "Isn't it urgent to treat her first?" asked the cardinal during the meeting at the headquarters of the Jungto Society, a Buddhist group, in Seocho, southern Seoul. Beomryun said, "That's not what she wants."

Before leaving, the cardinal said, "I hope that the government and Jiyul both realize that life holds important value."

Jiyul's hunger strike reaches its 100th day today. Beomryun said Jiyul is now too weak to even swallow a little salt, which along with water is virtually all she has consumed during the protest.

The South Korean government is anxiously hoping Jiyul gives up her protest, but it made clear that it could not give in to her demand to halt the construction of a railroad tunnel through Mount Cheonseong until another environmental assessment is made of the area. A rare salamander breeds in the watershed around the mountain, and the nun believes the project threatens to destroy it.

"There are things that even government cannot do," said Moon Jae-in, senior secretary for civil affairs.

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