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Friday, 14 September, 2001, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
Korea talks under way
North Korea's Kim Ryong Song (r) shakes hands with South's Unification Minister Hong Soon-young
Talks have been on hold since March
By BBC Seoul correspondent Caroline Gluck

Ministers from North and South Korea began their first substantive talks of the year on Sunday, a return to formal negotiations which had been stalled for the last six months.

North Korea suspended ties in March, amid rising tension with the United States, the South's key ally.

The meeting is an attempt to give new impetus to the inter-Korean peace process - begun last June, when the two Korean leaders pledged to work towards reconciliation.

South Korean workers and soldiers work to reconnect the inter-Korean railway
A North-South rail link is on the agenda
The delegates held discussions for 70 minutes at a hotel in Seoul.

During the 70-minute meeting held in a Seoul hotel, South Korean delegates called on their Northern counterparts to quicken the pace of reconciliation, following last year's historic summit.

Negotiators made clear their displeasure at the North's unilateral decision to suspend talks in March.

Policy under fire

The resumption of official dialogue will be a welcome relief to the government - whose Sunshine Policy of engagement with the North is coming under increasing criticism.

But South Korean officials have cautioned against high expectations. A spokesman said delegates were urging the implementation of projects which had already been agreed upon - rather than making new proposals.

They include:

  • reconnecting a severed railroad between the two countries

  • building a new road link to take tourists to the North's scenic resort of Diamond Mountain

  • establishing a permanent meeting point for families separated since the division of the peninsula, more than half a century ago.

Seoul is also asking the North to identify a site for an industrial complex for South Korean businesses, under an earlier agreement.

The Northern side are reported to have presented ideas, but no details were given.

Both sides also made clear that there would be no discussion of a promised visit to Seoul by North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il.

Formal talks between the two sides will resume on Monday.

The BBC's Caroline Gluck
"Raising some hopes that a meaningful agreement might still be reached"
See also:

04 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
China steps into Korean debate
03 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea makes official talks offer
01 Sep 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Life in the secret state
06 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
S Korea calls for new summit
08 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Seoul's fears over Bush
08 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Bush rules out North Korea talks
22 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea threatens end to missile deal
13 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Kim Dae-jung: Korean peacemaker
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