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Mourning unites two Koreas, hold talks

world Updated: Aug 23, 2009 23:35 IST
Kim Yeon-hee

The funeral on Sunday of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, whose efforts to reconcile the divided peninsula won him the Nobel Peace Prize, was marked by the rival Koreas' first top level talks in nearly two years.

Kim, who died on Tuesday aged 85, was a driving force in South Korea's shift to democracy and initiated the "Sunshine Policy" to try to coax the North out of its shell, leading in 2000 to the first ever summit of the two Korean leaders.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il sent a delegation to the South for the mourning of the former president and, with them, a message to the South's current President Lee Myung-bak whose 18 months in office have seen a sharp deterioration in relations.

The delegation, headed by a top aide to Kim Jong-il, met Lee in the latest sign the impoverished North is softening its tone after a nuclear test in May and missile launches were met with tightened U.N. sanctions and further international isolation.

Yonhap news agency quoted a senior presidential Blue House official as saying the meeting was a new beginning but "it's too early to expect a thaw in inter-Korean relations".

“President Lee said if South and North Korea solve problems through dialogue and in a sincere manner, there is nothing we cannot resolve," presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said.

The delegation was the North's first to the South in nearly two years. It flew home just before the state funeral.

Biggest funeral

About 20,000 mourners, the largest the country has seen for a funeral, gathered by the National Assembly to mark the death of the man who was a towering figure in the fight to bring democracy to what is now Asia's fourth largest economy.

Popularly referred to by his initials "DJ", the former president spent much of his political life behind bars or under house arrest. He was once sentenced to death and the target of a number of assassination attempts.