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S. Korea: Reconciliation with North to Continue - 2002-07-01

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung says he will press ahead with his reconciliation effort with North Korea, despite Saturday's naval clash in which four South Koreans and an estimated 30 North Koreans were killed. His comments came as the South Korean defense minister and the commander of the U.S. forces stationed there met to discuss the incident.

According to Japanese officials, visiting South Korean President Kim Dae-jung told Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that he plans to maintain his policy of engaging North Korea despite the deadly exchange of fire between the two sides on Saturday.

Mr. Kim made with his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo. He is here to mark the end of the World Cup soccer tournament, which the two nations co-hosted.

Mr. Koizumi voiced full support for the South Korean leader's commitment to engagement with the North, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize two years ago. In a joint statement, the two leaders agreed that the deadly incident should not re-ignite tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula and stressed the need for dialogue with Pyongyang to encourage an end to Cold War tensions.

The battle erupted Saturday when two North Korean vessels crossed the sea border between the two nations. South Korean navy ships tried to turn them back, but after ignoring warnings to retreat, the North Koreans opened fire.

The two sides blame each other for the incident, the worst in three years and a reminder of the volatility that remains a half a century after the 1950 to 1953 Korean War ended with no peace treaty but an armed truce.

In South Korea, Defense Minister Kim Dong-shin on Monday met with General Leon LaPorte, the commander of the 37,000 U.S. forces in the country to discuss Saturday's naval clash.

Minister Kim and the general discussed a change in the rules of engagement to reduce the chance of armed confrontation. General LaPorte also said the United States would step up monitoring North Korean movements by increasing air patrols.

Separately, American military officials along with South and North Korean counterparts, are working to set up a special meeting on the incident at the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, which bisects the Korean peninsula. They have not yet set a timetable.

Hundreds of sailors and their families have attended a memorial service and funerals for the South Korean sailors who died in the gun battle. Weeping relatives bowed in front of the coffins, which were draped with South Korean flags.