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Page last updated at 04:54 GMT, Friday, 23 October 2009 05:54 UK

Koreas silent on reported meeting

A North Korean border guard at Panmunjom, file image
An atmosphere of suspicion persists on both sides of the border

Officials from North and South Korea met secretly last week to discuss a possible summit, several South Korean newspapers have reported.

They quoted various unnamed government sources - but the government has refused to comment on the reports.

Seoul newspapers and broadcasters reported that the talks were held in either Singapore or China.

The two Koreas held summits in 2000 and 2007 but ties have worsened over the past year.

The South Korean state broadcaster KBS said on Thursday that Kim Yang-gon, a North Korean official in charge of cross-border affairs, visited Singapore to meet a ranking Seoul official.

No comment

Quoting intelligence sources, KBS said he made the side trip during his visit to China from October 15-20.

It said the talks made no progress after Mr Kim refused to accept the South's proposal that the summit should be held in Seoul, requiring North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to travel south.

The JoongAng Ilbo newspaper carried a similar report on Friday.

The South Korean government is refusing to comment on the reports.

"Our office cannot confirm the report and has nothing to say right now about an inter-Korean summit," a presidential spokesman told AFP news agency.

NORTH KOREA 2009 TESTS
4 July - Seven suspected ballistic missiles fired
2 July - four short-range cruise missiles launched
25 May - second underground nuclear test brings new UN sanctions
25/26 May - series of short-range rockets fired
5 April - N Korea says long-range rocket was satellite launch

"I have nothing to say," an official at the South's presidential Blue House said, when asked to confirm the reports.

Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo also told reporters she could not confirm that a meeting took place.

Hot and cold

"There have been reports on secret inter-Korean talks despite the government's denial. We want (Lee) to handle this issue openly," opposition legislator Park Joo-sung told a parliamentary session Friday.

North-South ties have been up and down in recent months - after deteriorating when the conservative President Lee took power in Seoul in February 2008.

He linked further aid to the North to the North's nuclear disarmament, and ties worsened when the North set off nuclear and missile tests this May.

However, the funeral of South Korean leader Kim Dae-jung sparked a new phase of reconciliatory measures.

The North has since freed five South Korean detainees, eased curbs on the operations of a joint industrial estate, sent envoys for talks with President Lee and given the go-ahead for the resumption of a family reunion programme.

Media speculation about a possible summit has intensified since Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met the North's Kim Jong-il in Pyonyang earlier in October.

Mr Lee has said he is open to any type of dialogue with Kim Jong-Il, but that a summit will only be possible only after Pyongyang clarifies its willingness to scrap its nuclear programme.

Separately, North Korea's nuclear negotiator, Ri Gun, was on his way to the United States where he is expected to meet a US negotiator and consider the restart of nuclear negotiations.



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