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(2nd LD) N. Korea proposes inter-Korean dialogue in early future
SEOUL, Jan. 8 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Saturday renewed its call for an early resumption of dialogue between the divided Koreas, proposing to hold such talks at least within a month.

   The North earlier proposed "unconditional and early" resumption of talks between the two Koreas to defuse tension that arose after the North's sinking of a South Korean warship in March and then its bombing of a populated South Korean island in November.

   The sinking of the Cheonan left 46 South Korean sailors dead with the November shelling of Yeonpyeong Island killing four South Koreans, including two civilians.

   "We formally propose an unconditional and early opening of the talks between the authorities of the North and the South," the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland (KPRF) said in a statement.

   The committee said the date, venue and level of official dialogue between the governments of the two Koreas may be decided under a bilateral agreement.

   The North Korean committee also proposed holding Red Cross talks in the North's border town of Kaesong "at the end of January or in the first half of February" to discuss the resumption of tours to a South Korea-built resort in the North's Mount Kumgang, a valuable source of income for the impoverished North.

   The tourism program has been suspended since 2008 when a female South Korean tourist was shot dead after entering a restricted area.

   "The closed Panmunjom North-South Red Cross passage should be reopened and the freezing of the Consultative Office for North-South Economic Cooperation in the Kaesong Industrial Zone be lifted as a measure of good faith for opening the channel of dialogue and improving the North-South relations," said the statement carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

   Seoul earlier rejected the North's proposal for talks, noting it had doubts about the North's true intention.

   South Korea's Unification Ministry, in charge of North Korean affairs, again raised questions about the intentions behind Pyongyang's proposal Saturday.

   "We are checking whether North Korea has sent official messages to our government or the military," said an official from the ministry. "Without these, the KPRF's proposal is not an official dialogue offer, just a unilateral announcement."

   He said Saturday's statement was similar to a New Year's message released on Wednesday.

   Speaking through its state committee Saturday, North Korea said there was no condition for the proposed resumption of dialogue and no "need to cast any doubt about its real intention."

   "The Panmunjom Red Cross liaison representatives of the North side will soon begin their work and those concerned of the North side will be dispatched to the above-said office to be permanently stationed there," it said.

   North Korea has made a series of dialogue overtures after sharply escalating tensions with the deadly artillery strike on Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23.

   In its New Year's message, Pyongyang stressed the importance of improved relations and dialogue with South Korea, and on Wednesday released a joint statement from its government, political parties and social organizations to propose "unconditional and early" cross-border talks to defuse tension between the two Koreas.

   The shelling marked the first direct armed attack on South Korean civilians since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

   brk@yna.co.kr
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