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South Korean Unification Minister Resigns

South Korea's top official dealing with North Korean relations has tendered his resignation to President Roh Moo-hyun. Chung Dong-young is to return to party politics and could end up a presidential contender.

South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young's resignation had been expected for some time when he formally offered it to President Roh Moo-hyun Friday.

Mr. Chung is widely expected to run for Mr. Roh's job in December 2007 - though he has not yet formally declared his candidacy.

In the short run, Mr. Chung says he will seek to revitalize his and President Roh's Uri Party, which has waned in popularity over economic issues and corruption allegations. Uri Chairman Moon Hee-sang resigned after two resounding electoral defeats this year.

As unification minister, Mr. Chung was credited with keeping a reticent North Korea committed to six-nation talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programs.

Now that Mr. Chung is returning to party politics, having held a ministerial post will enhance his profile ahead of the next presidential elections in 2007.

Ryoo Kihl-jae, a Dean at Kyungam University of North Korean Studies here in Seoul, says Mr. Chung is a consummate politician.

Professor Ryoo says Mr. Chung's high profile meeting with North Korea's reclusive Kim Jong Il helped lay the groundwork for a run at the Presidency.

South Korean media report Seoul's ambassador to China, Kim Ha-joong, and the country's Deputy National Security Council Chairman Lee Jong-seok are tipped as possible replacements for Mr. Chung.

Like Mr. Chung, the new unification minister is likely to push for further engagement with North-South, especially in industrial projects.

South Korean opposition politicians and human rights activists have criticized the Roh administration for stressing engagement with North Korea at the cost of human rights.