Sunday, 23rd August , 2009 , 02:03 [am] | International
N Koreans to meet South’s leader
South Korean leader Lee Myung-bak is set to receive senior North Korean officials for the first time since taking office last year.
The talks are being seen as a significant thaw in relations. President Lee is routinely denounced as a lackey and traitor by the North.
The delegation from Pyongyang is to attended the funeral of late ex-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.
The six senior envoys say they want better relations between the Koreas.
“The North Korean delegation is scheduled to pay a visit to President Lee Myung-bak before 10am (0100 GMT) Sunday,” Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said.
The meeting will take place just a few hours before the funeral of Kim Dae-jung, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts to promote reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.
The talks between Unification Minister Hyun In-taek and the North Korean envoys was the first high-level meeting between the two sides since conservative President Lee took office in February 2008, promising to take a tougher line with Pyongyang.
Relations chilled as he cut aid to the North, tying its resumption to progress on nuclear disarmament.
‘Ties must be improved’
The six officials from North Korea were sent to pay respects for Kim Dae-jung. On Friday they laid a wreath at the National Assembly in Seoul, where Mr Kim’s body is lying in state.
They were also reported to be carrying a message from their leader Kim Jong-il to Mr Lee.
“While meeting many South Koreans here, I came to believe that inter-Korean ties must be improved at the earliest possible date,” said Kim Yang-gon, the North’s official in charge of inter-Korean relations.
“We’ve had little opportunity to talk… I hope that these first high-level official talks under the Lee Myung-bak administration will provide a chance to have frank talks,” he told his Southern counterpart Mr Hyun.
The words mark a turn around for the North, which earlier this year conducted an underground nuclear test and fired a long-range missile over Japan.
But more recently, there has been a series of conciliatory gestures. Two US reporters and a South Korean worker were released from detention and last week Pyongyang said it was interested in resuming cross-border tourism and industrial projects.
Some observers believe that, with UN sanctions beginning to bite, the North is keen to boost cross-border tourism and trade that bring in badly needed foreign currency, says the BBC’s John Sudworth in Seoul.bbc, Voice of a Nation