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North Korean envoys arrive in South
Fri Aug 21, 2009 3:11am EDT
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By Jack Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) - Senior North Korean officials sent by leader Kim Jong-il arrived in the South on Friday to mourn former President Kim Dae-jung in a move that may signal a warming of ties between the rival states.
But in an indication of the North's anger at the hardline policies of current President Lee Myung-bak toward Pyongyang, the group will leave on Saturday ahead of the South's state funeral so as not to appear at any official government events.
China's Xinhua news agency said the country's chief nuclear envoy, Wu Dawei, had visited the reclusive North in the first such high-level trip to its capital since six-country disarmament talks broke down almost a year ago.
Wu met his counterpart, Xinhua said, but there was no report on whether he met the North's leader during the five-day stay.
China, the closest North Korea has to a major ally, backed the U.N. resolution condemning the North's May 25 nuclear test and imposing new sanctions, but has long been reluctant to press for more.
The North Korean delegation that arrived in Seoul by plane did not make any immediate statement.
Kim Dae-jung, who was awarded the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize for brokering the first summit between the leaders of the two Koreas that led to a dramatic warming of ties, died on Tuesday at the age of 85. The funeral will be held on Sunday.
Relations chilled after conservative Lee came to office last year and ended Kim's Sunshine Policy of engagement with the North by cutting off a steady flow of unconditional aid and calling on reclusive state to reduce the security threat it poses to the region if it wants to receive handouts.
The destitute North has made a series of rare conciliatory moves this month that could mean it wants greater contact with the outside world after being hit with the U.N. sanctions for its nuclear test in May that drove it further into isolation and hurt its already broken economy.
Shares in South Korean firms with business ties to the North were up in early trading in Seoul on Friday and investors said the change in tone from the North has eased their concerns that troubles could worsen and harm regional economies.
But North Korea has a long history of sharp changes of tack in its diplomacy and few analysts believe it has any intention of giving up its dreams of building a nuclear arsenal.
North Korea's media said leader Kim Jong-il had approved the Friday-to-Saturday visit, headed by close aide Kim Ki-nam, secretary of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party, and Kim Yang-gon, a senior party official with ties the South.
It is the first high-level visit to the South by North Korean officials in almost two years. They are expected to meet officials close to the former president but steer clear of the current government.
"The delegation's overnight stay and their political rank shows signs that they may be willing to talk over some current issues at hand," said Yang Moo-jin, an expert at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
Hundreds of thousands of South Korean's have paid their respects to the former president whose body was moved to the National Assembly building ahead of the funeral. Continued...
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