Sun, Jan 04, 2009 - Page 5 News List

S Korea seeks help from UN’s Ban with Pyongyang tensions

AP , SEOUL

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak asked the UN chief to help improve strained relations with North Korea, Lee’s spokesman said yesterday.

Tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula have been high since Lee took office early last year with a pledge to get tough with Pyongyang.

North Korea suspended reconciliation talks and some landmark joint projects with the South in protest, plunging their relations to the lowest level in a decade.

In a telephone conversation with Lee, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that he would closely cooperate with South Korea to try to improve inter-Korean relations, Lee’s spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said.

Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, did not give any further details.

Lee said on Friday he was ready for dialogue with North Korea to mend frayed ties, but did not propose any new initiatives.

Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il reportedly paid a new year’s visit to soldiers from a leading tank unit.

The visit was Kim’s first public appearance of the year, state-run media said yesterday, while withholding key details.

The dispatch did not specify the exact location of Kim’s military visit, but said the leader “congratulated service persons on the new year.”

A photo released by the Korean Central News Agency showed Kim peering out a window, a pair of binoculars on the table before him.

Kim, 66, is believed to have suffered a stroke in August.

His failure to appear at a parade marking North Korea’s 60th anniversary — and his subsequent disappearance from the public eye for some 50 days — sparked speculation about his health.

North Korea denies the reports that Kim has been ill and since early October has sent a steady stream of photos and footage of Kim chronicling what appears to be a busy wintertime tour of military units, farms and factories.

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