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August 22, 2009

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North Korean delegation pays respects to late Kim in Seoul

A HIGH-LEVEL delegation of North Korean officials paid respects yesterday to late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, shaking hands with his wife and sons and leaving a wreath at the National Assembly mourning site.

The visit is the first to Seoul by North Korean officials in nearly two years, and only the second time North Korea has sent a delegation to South Korea for mourning rites.

Dressed in black, they laid a wreath emblazoned with the name of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il at the altar for the former president.

Chief delegate Kim Ki Nam then burned incense, and the six-member delegation bowed before a large portrait of Kim Dae-jung before greeting his family.

The visit to mourn a man who devoted his presidency to building better relations with North Korea raised hopes of improved ties on the tense Korean Peninsula.

Kim died on Tuesday at age 85.

The two Koreas officially remain in a state of war because their three-year conflict ended in 1953 with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

Kim Dae-jung was respected on both sides of the border for his efforts to break down decades of postwar mistrust.

His "Sunshine Policy" of reaching out to North Korea with aid -- highlighted by a historic summit with Kim Jong Il in 2000 -- earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.

The North Koreans' closely-watched trip may provide a valuable opportunity for dialogue between the two countries, whose relations have deteriorated since South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, a conservative, took office last year, abandoning the Sunshine Policy.

Lee has said North Korea must follow through on its commitments to nuclear disarmament before getting aid.

It was not clear whether the delegation would hold talks with South Korean officials before returning home today.

Kim Ki Nam, North Korea's chief delegate, told the South Korean vice unification minister that his team expressed its willingness to meet with South Korean officials, Yonhap news agency reported.

The president's office said Lee had not received any such request.

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


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