Page last updated at 13:10 GMT, Saturday, 22 August 2009 14:10 UK

North and South Korea hold talks


Hyun In-taek met visiting North Korean spy chief Kim Yang-gon in Seoul

The first meeting between North and South Korean officials in nearly two years has taken place unexpectedly in the South Korean capital Seoul.

A spy chief said to be close to the North's leader Kim Jong-il met Seoul's Unification Minister Hyun In-taek.

Later, a South Korean government official announced the envoys would meet President Lee Myung-bak on Sunday.

The delegates from the North have said they want better relations on the Korean peninsula.

They are in Seoul to pay respects to late ex-President Kim Dae-jung.

The Northern official in charge of inter-Korean relations, Kim Yang-gon, said there was an urgent need to improve the frosty relations between the two countries.

"After meeting with several people [in the South], I felt the imperative need for North-South relations to improve," Mr Kim said ahead of his talks with Mr Hyun.

Conciliatory gestures

Saturday's meeting is the first between officials from the two Koreas since the conservative Mr Lee came to power in Seoul in February 2008.

Relations soured when Mr Lee made South Korean aid conditional on North Korea's nuclear disarmament.

In the past few months, North Korea has fired a long range rocket over Japanese territory and conducted an underground nuclear test.

But more recently, there has been a series of conciliatory gestures. Two US reporters and a South Korean worker were released from detention and Pyongyang said it was interested in resuming cross-border tourism and industrial projects.

Some observers believe that, with UN sanctions beginning to bite, the North is keen to boost cross-border tourism and trade that bring in badly needed foreign currency, our correspondent adds.

On Friday, the six officials from North Korea's ruling Workers' Party, wearing black suits and ties, placed a wreath of flowers on the steps of South Korea's National Assembly, where Kim Dae-jung is lying in state.

Mr Kim - who died on Tuesday at the age of 85 - devoted his presidency to improving relations between the two Koreas, still technically at war.

He reached out to the North with aid - the main thrust of his "Sunshine Policy" that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000, and held a historic summit with Kim Jong-Il in that year.

Mr Kim's funeral is to be held on Sunday.

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