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Seoul Special Envoy Arrives in N. Korea - 2002-04-03

A South Korean special envoy arrived in North Korea Wednesday on a mission to revive stalled relations on the divided peninsula. Lim Dong-won will hold three days of talks with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il and other top officials.

South Korean officials said Wednesday that President Kim Dae-jung's envoy had met with his main North Korean dialogue partner, Kim Young Sun. "Before leaving Seoul, Lim Dong-won said he wants a frank exchange of opinions with the North and hopes for a breakthrough in bilateral relations, Lim Dong-won said.

The main aims of the trip are to kick start talks between the rival nations, which have had no pubic contact in five months, and to persuade the reclusive North to reopen contacts with the United States. Ties with Washington soured in January after President Bush branded North Korea as part of an axis of evil. Since then, North Korea has turned down Washington's unconditional offer to resume talks.

The visit comes amid signs that the isolated Stalinist country wants more contact with its southern neighbor and with other nations. After a trip to North Korea last week, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri said that Kim Jong Il was affirmative about a possible resumption of talks with the United States and about a South Korea's hope for better ties.

Kwon Man-hak, a professor of international relations at South Korea's Kyunghee University, cautions against high expectations. "I think the special envoy from South Korean government has a mission to restart the North-South Korean talks and improve bilateral relations. In that sense they are trying to make a breakthrough in North-South Korean relations but I do not think it is going to be a big breakthrough," Mr. Kwon said. The two Koreas have been divided since 1945, and are technically at war as no peace treaty was signed when the Korean war ended in 1953. The two sides held an historic summit nearly two years ago, but have talked little since then.

Mr. Lim says he wants to negotiate the resumption of reunions between divided family members and a series of other joint projects, including the construction of an inter-Korean railway.