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Wednesday, February 3, 1999 Published at 16:31 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Korean talks proposed

North Korea is still officially at war with its neighbour

North Korea has offered to hold wide-ranging talks with South Korea - the first for several years - and the South has promised to study the offer.

The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted the secretary of the North's ruling Workers' Party Central Committee, Kim Yong Sun, as proposing "inter-Korean high-level political talks in the second half of the year".

[ image: Troops on display, but there are fears of hidden nuclear sites]
Troops on display, but there are fears of hidden nuclear sites
The offer was addressed to more than 100 prominent figures, including South Koera's President, Kim Dae-jung, as well as opposition party leaders and dissidents.

It was delivered in a letter through the Red Cross at the UN truce village of Panmunjom on Wednesday.

The proposal included demands that South Korea abandon military exercises with the United States and repeal anti-communist laws.

Both conditions have been rejected by South Korea in the past.

Kim Yong Sun also wrote that the talks could focus on the issue of holding reunions for families separated when the Korean peninsula was divided into communist North and capitalist South 50 years ago.

South Korean officials say they will give a formal response on Thursday after deciding whether the offer amounts to anything more than propaganda.

But Kim Sang-woo, an adviser on foreign affairs to President Kim Dae-jung, gave the offer a cautious welcome.

He said: "The South Korean government will take this very seriously. This new approach made by North Korea we will try to accept at face value and we will try to approach this new situation with a positive attitude.

"Some of the conditions are unacceptable. Therefore there has to be a bit of dialogue and negotiations and we really need to ascertain the true motive of the North Korean authorities as to whether they really want to begin a dialogue with South Korea."

The relationship between the two countries grew more tense in 1998 after a series of intrusions by Pyongyang into South Korean waters, and a North Korean rocket launch which landed in the sea off Japan.

In August the US accused Pyongyang of building an underground complex in the North to revive its nuclear weapons programme.

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