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S. Korean Labor Leaders Go to North

By Kyong-Hwa Seok, AP, Monday 11 December 2000 8:45 PM ET

SEOUL, South Korea (AP)—South Korea’s unification minister flew to North Korea Tuesday for high-level talks that Seoul officials said will set the tone for future relations between the two former Cold War adversaries.

Park Jae-kyu, South Korea’s point man on North Korea, will meet his counterpart, Chon Gum Jin, for four days for a fourth round of talks since September. Previous talks were held alternately in the two Korean capitals, Seoul and Pyongyang.

We plan to review the overall relations between the two sides and discuss various matters of mutual concern, Park said before departing.

Reuniting more of the millions of Koreans separated from family members by the heavily armed border will be a key topic, South Korean (news—web sites) officials said. Most have had no contact with relatives for more than five decades.

The South Koreans also said they will try to set the date for a visit to Seoul by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. After accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on Sunday, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung (news—web sites) said he expected Kim to visit Seoul in the spring.

Thirty-four South Korean labor leaders also headed to North Korea’s scenic Diamond Mountain for separate talks on holding sports and other exchanges, officials said.

It is the second time this year that the South Korean government has allowed such a visit, though the North has extended several invitations over the years.

We will discuss ways to boost exchanges to help contribute to peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula, said Lee Sang-yon, a spokesman for the federation.

Relations between the communist North and capitalist South, divided since 1945, have thawed considerably since June, when the South Korean president traveled to Pyongyang for a historic summit between the two leaders. They pledged to work toward peace and an eventual reunification.

The two Koreans since have staged two reunions, arranging to let 200 people from each side meet for several days with relatives on the other side. Both Koreas have agreed to hold at least one more reunion but no date has been set.

South Korea wants to set up a permanent meeting place along the border. North Korea has proposed an isolated tourist site in its territory.

Also, the American Chamber of Commerce in (South) Korea said it has delayed a planned trip to the North for investment talks. A ten-member delegation flew to Beijing to enter North Korea on Saturday, but returned to Seoul after failing to obtain visas.