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Koreas agree to hold joint prayer meeting in June in Kaesong
SEOUL, March 20 (Yonhap) -- South and North Korean Christian leaders have agreed to hold a joint prayer meeting in the communist country in June, a South Korean reverend said Tuesday, amid fresh tensions over Pyongyang's planned rocket launch.

   The two sides tentatively plan to conduct the meeting in a chapel inside the joint industrial complex in the North's western border city of Kaesong on June 12, Rev. Han Gie-yang said.

   The complex, a key outcome of the inter-Korean summit in 2000, marries South Korean capital and technology with cheap labor from the North. It is now home to more than 120 South Korean small and medium-sized companies.

   The date is timed for the anniversary of the summit that called for better ties and a set of cross-border economic projects.

   Officials from the North's Christian Federation of Korea welcomed the planned prayer meeting, saying churches in the two Koreas should take actions to help ease tensions and promote peace on the divided Korean Peninsula, Han said.

   Han made the comment after returning home from a trip to the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang where he said he had discussions lasting three hours with three North Korean officials of the Christian Federation of Korea on Monday.

   Nine more South Korean Christian leaders were to hold a similar meeting with their North Korean counterparts in Shenyang on Tuesday, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry.

   The ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said five other Christian leaders from the South plan to meet with their North Korean counterparts in the Chinese city on Wednesday and Thursday.

   The development came amid heightened tensions over North Korea's plan to launch a rocket in mid-April to put an earth observation satellite into orbit as part of what it says is a peaceful space program.

   South Korea and the United States condemned the planned launch as a provocative act that would violate U.N. resolutions banning the North from all activities related to its ballistic missile program.

   On Monday, the North said the launch of the working satellite is an issue fundamentally different from that of a long-range missile, saying that the planned launch poses no problem.

   In November, 10 South Korean Christian leaders traveled to Pyongyang for a joint prayer meeting with their North Korean counterparts in a church, according to Lee Chang-hwie, an official of Seoul-based National Council of Churches in Korea.

   The South Korean council sent 153 tons of flour to North Korea's Christian Federation last week through the Amity Foundation, a Chinese aid group, Lee added.

   North Korea has a Catholic church and two protestant churches as well as a Russian Orthodox church, but critics say they are for propaganda and open only when foreign visitors attend services.

   The impoverished country instead runs a massive cult of personality around its late leader Kim Jong-il and his family. Kim died of a heart attack in December and was succeeded by his youngest son, Kim Jong-un.