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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 08:35 GMT 09:35 UK
Seoul envoy in North Korea
Lim Dong-won at Seoul airport
Lim: Hoping for a breakthrough in the North
A presidential envoy from South Korea has arrived in the North for talks aimed at restarting dialogue and exchanges between the two countries.

Billboard in Pyongyang
The two Koreas remain technically at war
The three-day visit by Lim Dong-won, a former unification minister, is the first public contact between the sides for months.

"I am going to Pyongyang to prevent the building of tension on the Korean peninsula and arrange a breakthrough in South-North relations," he said before departure.

He was met at the airport by Kim Wan-Su, a senior official from the North Korean committee that handles inter-Korean relations, the country's official KCNA news agency said.

Mr Lim said in Seoul that he would hold the first round of talks with North Korean officials on Wednesday afternoon, to discuss the timing of his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Mr Lim has been a key architect of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung's "sunshine policy", aimed at engaging the Communist state with whom Seoul is still technically at war.

North Korea suspended inter-Korean government exchanges last November, angered by what it believed was a hostile policy being pursued against it by the United States - a close ally of the South.

Much is resting on Mr Lim's visit even though the South Korean Government is playing down expectations.

Clock ticking

The stakes are high now, partly because President Dae-jung, who has doggedly pursued efforts to engage the North, has less than a year left in office.

Unfinished business
Further reunions of families separated by the Korean war
Reopening rail and road links cut off by the North-South border
Joint construction of an industrial park in North Korea
Visit by North Korean leader to South
Closer economic ties

Whoever his successor turns out to be may not be so active in trying to activate exchanges with the North.

The president's envoy will be carrying a message for the North Korean leader, urging him to revive a series of projects that the two sides had agreed since their historic summit nearly two years ago.

They include a return visit to South Korea by Kim Jong-il; further reunions between elderly relatives separated since the Korean war half a century ago; the connection of road and rail links between the two countries; and the implementation of a series of economic agreements.

The envoy will also want to address new concerns about North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes, and urge Pyongyang to begin talks with Japan and the US.

The BBC's Seoul correspondent Caroline Gluck says many in the South are sceptical about this trip resulting in major breakthroughs, although Pyongyang, which needs economic help and food aid, may agree to more family reunions.

But North Korea still remains highly unpredictable and some surprises could be in store, she says.

See also:

03 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
US grants N Korea nuclear funds
28 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea pressed to resume dialogue
29 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea calls off Japan talks
26 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea gears up for festivities
01 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea hits back at US
26 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
China's North Koreans in hiding
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