SKorea accepts NKorea mourners

SEOUL: South Korea on Thursday accepted North Korea's request to send a delegation to pay respects to late former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, amid signs of warming ties between the neighbors.

North Korea's Kim Jong Il sent a rare condolence message Wednesday for Kim Dae-jung, whom he met in a historic 2000 summit in Pyongyang that spawned a flurry of reconciliation projects on the divided peninsula. North Korea's state media later said Kim Jong Il planned to send a condolence delegation to Seoul on Friday and Saturday.

The state funeral for Kim Dae-jung, who died Tuesday at age 85, is scheduled Sunday at the National Assembly.

The offer was the latest in a series of gestures of conciliation made by North Korea in the past week, with its government releasing a detained South Korean worker and announcing it would allow some stalled cross-border projects to resume.

On Thursday, Chun Hae-sung, a spokesman for Seoul's Unification Ministry, said it decided to allow the trip "in consideration of South-North Korean ties" and the wishes of Kim Dae-jung's family.

North Korea has only dispatched a condolence delegation for one other South Korean, Chung Ju-yung, the founder of the Hyundai Group, which funded the first inter-Korean joint projects. Chung died in 2001.

This week's visit could offer a chance for dialogue to improve relations between the two Koreas, which remain technically in a state of war because their three-year conflict ended in 1953 with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

Tensions have heightened since conservative, pro-U.S. President Lee Myung-bak took office in Seoul early last year. Lee angered North Korea by taking a tougher line than his liberal predecessors in making it accountable in its commitments on nuclear disarmament.

Chun, however, said South Korean officials had no immediate plans to meet the North Korean delegation, which will be led by senior Workers' Party official Kim Ki Nam and include the country's spy chief, Kim Yang Gon. He said the North Koreans are to fly to Seoul via a direct air route off the west coast.

Also Thursday, South Korea's Red Cross said it will propose talks on resuming reunions of families separated since the Korean War. Red Cross spokeswoman Choi Min-kyu said her agency planned to send a message to the North's Red Cross later Thursday proposing that the sides meet Aug. 26-28.

On Monday, North Korea announced it would resume reunions of separated families at the country's scenic Diamond Mountain resort during the "Chuseok" autumn harvest holiday on Oct. 3, which is celebrated in both Koreas. South Korean officials have said they hope the reunions would take place before then.

Family reunions were key to a slew of rapprochement projects initiated after the 2000 summit between the two Kims. Most have stalled because of renewed tension following Lee's inauguration.

Family reunions first took place in August 2000 and have temporarily reunited about 20,000 separated Koreans. They were last held in October 2007.