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(LEAD) S. Korea agrees to talks on possible volcano in N. Korea
SEOUL, March 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea said it agreed Tuesday to hold talks with North Korea on a potential volcano on the communist state's border with China, proposing a meeting of experts next week amid growing speculation the sides are seeking ways to re-establish contact.

   The proposal, made by the head of South Korea's national weather agency and delivered through the liaison officials of the countries, calls for a meeting next Tuesday in the South Korean border city of Munsan, a Unification Ministry official told reporters.

   Earlier this month, North Korea had proposed talks with South Korea amid growing worries of a potential eruption at Mount Paekdu.

   The mountain, the highest on the Korean Peninsula, last erupted in 1903, but experts have warned that it may still have an active core, citing topographical signs and satellite images.

   The series of proposals by the two Koreas come as observers say the sides are putting out feelers for ways to resume dialogue. Last month, the divided countries failed to produce any progress in their defense talks aimed at easing tension after the North shelled a South Korean island last November.

   "We agree on the need to cooperate in these types of matters," the ministry official said, asking not to be named. "But it is more important that experts collect information and have discussions on the extent of possible volcanic activities at Mount Paekdu."

   In its letter, North Korea said the sides should discuss conducting joint research, on-site surveys and symposiums on the possible volcano eruption at Mount Paekdu.

   Experts have warned that an eruption would cause financial damage and disarray far greater than in Europe, where the eruption of an Icelandic volcano last year caused massive flight disruptions.

   The proposal from the North's earthquake bureau came as the communist regime has been making repeated calls for talks with the South, a move that many officials here believe is a typical strategy to win aid for its impoverished people after sharply raising tensions on the peninsula.

   Inter-Korean relations deteriorated to their worst level in decades after 50 South Koreans died last year in the North's shelling of the border island and the downing of a South Korean warship, also blamed on the North.

   samkim@yna.co.kr
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