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NKorea suspends first inter-Korean dialogue: Officials

21 January, 2008

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SEOUL: North Korea has postponed the first inter-Korean dialogue of this year, citing time constraints, South Korean officials said Monday.

The two sides were to hold working-level talks Tuesday and Wednesday on repairing a cross-border railway and transporting a joint cheering squad to the Beijing Olympics this year by train.

But Pyongyang asked for a suspension, saying "It is the start of the year and there are a few things to prepare," the South`s unification ministry said.

"We don`t know exactly why North Korea decided to suspend this week`s inter-Korean meeting," a ministry spokesman told AFP.

He refused to confirm Yonhap news agency`s report that the suspension was an apparent sign of uneasiness over the next South Korean government`s tougher stance on Pyongyang.

The transition team of president-elect Lee Myung-Bak said last week it would shut down the unification ministry, which handles relations with the North, as part of moves to streamline the administration.

Lee, a conservative who takes office on February 25, has pledged to take a firmer line with the North and review sweeping joint economic projects agreed by the leaders of the two countries at an October summit.

These include a "peace zone" encompassing a joint economic zone around the North`s Haeju city. The South also pledged help to repair the North`s dilapidated railways up to the border with China.

A cross-border railway cargo service to Kaesong, just north of the frontier, started in early December for the first time since the 1950-53 Korean War.

A joint survey of Haeju is scheduled for January 31 along with a flurry of inter-Korean talks in January and February, including plans to expand a Seoul-funded industrial complex at Kaesong.


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