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August 21, 2009

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N. Korea sends envoys to honor Kim

NORTH Korea announced yesterday it will dispatch a high-level delegation to Seoul for two days to pay respects to the late former President Kim Dae-jung - a rare visit that raised hopes of improved relations between the two countries.

North Korea leader Kim Jong Il on Wednesday offered condolence to South Korea following the death of its former president.

The two leaders held a historic summit in Pyongyang in 2000 - the first between the leaders of the two Koreas since the Korean War in the early 1950s - that spawned a flurry of reconciliation projects on the divided peninsula.

Kim Dae-jung, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to engage North Korea, died on Tuesday at age 85.

Yesterday his body was transferred to the National Assembly where a state funeral will take place on Sunday.

North Korea's Central News Agency said Kim Jong Il planned to send a condolence delegation to Seoul on Friday and Saturday. South Korea approved the trip yesterday.

The South Korean government said it would allow the trip "in consideration of South-North Korean ties" and the wishes of Kim Dae-jung's family, said a Unification Ministry spokesman.

The six-member North Korean delegation will be led by senior Workers' Party official Kim Ki Nam.

The two countries also set up a temporary hotline between their Red Cross liaison offices at the border village of Panmunjom to coordinate the delegation's visit.

North Korea has only dispatched a condolence delegation once before - a one-day trip in 2001 during mourning for Chung Ju-yung, founder of South Korea's Hyundai Group, which funded the first inter-Korean joint projects.

The trip is the latest in a series of conciliatory gestures made by North Korea in the past week.

North Korea yesterday sent a message to South Korea saying that it will lift border restrictions imposed last December, beginning today, according to the Unification Ministry.


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