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Indonesian President Delivers Special Message to N. Korea - 2002-03-28

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri went to North Korea Thursday, carrying with her messages from Seoul and, reportedly, Washington as well. The Indonesian leader has emerged as an unlikely conciliator on the divided Korean Peninsula.

Local media report that Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri is planning to deliver a special message to North Korean President Kim Jong Il - urging him to return to the negotiating table with South Korea.

Officials have declined to reveal exact details of that message, but they confirm its intent is to jump-start the stalled peace process between the two former Cold War enemies.

Marty Natalegawa is a spokesman of the Indonesian Foreign Ministry. "What we can share is that the visit of the president to Pyongyang is one which has also received the encouragement of President Kim Dae-jung in terms of facilitating the dialogue not only between North Korea and South Korea but also between North Korea and the United States," he said.

The meeting marks one of the most significant diplomatic forays made by the Indonesian president since she took office eight months ago and will be closely watched by the international community.

Observers say that, as the daughter of Indonesia's founder, Sukarno, President Megawati would be well suited to break through diplomatic barriers with North Korea's Kim Jong Il. Their fathers worked together to establish the Non-aligned Movement in the mid-1960s. President Megawati and Kim Jong Il first met when he accompanied his father to a conference in Jakarta in 1965.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Natalegawa says the two leaders previous meeting will be useful. "What is more important is the fact that since that time, Indonesia has had a useful relationship with North Korea in terms of our bilateral relations," he said.

The once-warming relations between Seoul and Pyongyang that followed the unprecedented visit by South Korean President Kim Dae-jung to Pyongyang in June 2000 have cooled since then. Pyongyang is angry at Washington's hardline approach with the North, and denounced President Bush's comments that North Korea is part of an "axis of evil."

Indonesian officials see Ms. Megawati's trip is part of Indonesia's push to play a bigger role in regional affairs.

After her trip to Pyongyang, Ms. Megawati is expected to travel to the South Korean capital, Seoul, before heading off to India.