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Page last updated at 08:06 GMT, Monday, 14 July 2008 09:06 UK

New S Korea call for North talks

A memorial to Park Wang-ja, 53, a South Korean housewife shot dead by a North Korean soldier while on holiday in the North, at a hospital in Seoul on Sunday
The death of S Korean Park Wang-ja has further soured bilateral ties

A senior figure in South Korea's ruling party has proposed that deputies hold direct talks with their North Korean counterparts in a bid to ease tensions.

Hong Joon-pyo, floor leader of the Grand National Party, said the National Assembly should "pioneer dialogue".

Already rocky relations between North and South were further soured on Friday when a North Korean soldier shot dead a visiting South Korean.

The North has already rebuffed a call for talks from the Southern president.

'Take the initiative'

In his comments to parliament on Monday, Mr Hong said the shooting "paradoxically shows why South-North reconciliation is necessary", reported Associated Press news agency.

"However, government-level South-North talks have been suspended and I think the National Assembly should take the initiative in making a breakthrough."

North Korea, which has been co-operating with six-nation talks over its nuclear programme in Beijing, has rejected South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's proposal to revive direct talks.

It caused fury in parts of the South Korean government and media over the weekend, when it expressed regret over the shooting of 53-year-old Park Wang-ja, but also blamed Seoul for the death, refused to co-operate with the South's investigation, and demanded an apology.

Pyongyang says the woman strayed into a restricted military zone and had tried to run away when repeatedly ordered to stop by a soldier.

Questions over death

But the South Korean government is questioning this account, reports the BBC's John Sudworth in Seoul.

It said photographs of the scene of the shooting show no clearly visible sign posts, and a large gap in the fence where it meets the shoreline.

North Korean claims that a warning shot was fired have also been contested by other South Korean tourists who were further along the beach, and report hearing only two shots. Mrs Park died from two bullet wounds.

Such accounts have prompted South Korean newspapers to raise the possibility that the shooting may have been an act of intentional provocation.

South Korea's Ministry of Unification said that the decision to shoot an unarmed woman was "wrong by any measure", Reuters news agency reported.

'Deceitful'

Analysts say Pyongyang's refusal to respond to South Korean overtures is probably an attempt to inflict further damage on President Lee, whose popularity has nosedived just months into his term due to unpopular policies.

Mr Lee caused offence in Pyongyang when he said after taking office that economic assistance to the South's impoverished neighbour should in future be tied to progress in its nuclear disarmament.

He also suggested previous bilateral summit accords between the North's Kim Jong-il and his own predecessors should be re-examined - a stance he appeared to turn against last Friday.

But North Korea continues to reject his advances, calling them a "deceitful" tactic to avoid taking responsibility for strains in relations.





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