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2009/08/23 10:01 KST
(2nd LD) President Lee meets 'special envoys' of N. Korean leader

  
SEOUL, Aug. 23 (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak held talks Sunday with a group of North Korean officials visiting Seoul to pay their respects to a late South Korean leader, a move that gives pause to months of escalating tension between the two Koreas.

   The meeting between Lee and two of the six-member North Korean delegation was initially set for 10 a.m. but moved forward by about an hour, apparently to allow more time for talks. The meeting ended around 9:30 a.m., according to officials at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.

The North Koreans, Kim Ki-nam and Kim Yang-gon, reportedly relayed a message from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, but the content of the message was not immediately available.

   Kim Ki-nam, a Workers' Party secretary, is said to be a close aide to the North Korean leader while Kim Yang-gon is in charge of inter-Korean relations as head of the party's unification front department.

   The six-member North Korean delegation arrived here Friday as special representatives of North Korean leader to pay tribute to the late former South Korean president, with whom the North Korean leader held the first inter-Korean summit in 2000.

   The North Koreans were originally set to return home Saturday, but extended their stay by one day, seeking a chance to meet with President Lee.

   "I hope this meeting (between President Lee and North Korean officials) will bring about a new kind of inter-Korean relationship," Seoul's unification minister Hyun In-taek said Saturday.

   Cheong Wa Dae officials said the meeting with the North Koreans was part of the protocol for foreign delegates to Kim's funeral. The president was set to meet with delegations from 10 other countries before attending the state funeral of the late former President Kim Dae-jung, set to be held at the National Assembly building from 2 p.m.

   Seoul-Pyongyang relations have deteriorated to their worst in a decade since the Lee Myung-bak administration was inaugurated 18 months ago with a pledge to take a tough stance on the North's nuclear programs.

   The relations further worsened after the communist nation launched a long-range rocket in April and conducted its second nuclear detonation the following month.

   Pyongyang, however, has taken a series of reconciliatory gestures in recent days, releasing a South Korean worker after nearly 140 days in detention and removing most of its travel restrictions put late last year on South Korean businesses and workers at a joint industrial park in its border town of Kaesong.

   Four South Korean fishermen currently remain detained in the North since their boat strayed into North Korean waters on July 30.

   The North Korean officials were scheduled to head home at noon on a special flight from their country's Air Koryo, according to the unification ministry.

   bdk@yna.co.kr
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