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North Korea to send envoys to Kim funeral

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North Korea plans to send a delegation of “special envoys” to the state funeral that South Korea’s government is staging for Kim Dae-jung, the former president who initiated the Sunshine policy of reconciliation toward the North.

The surprise move is the latest signal from the North of a thaw in relations.

North Korea faxed a letter to the unofficial Kim Dae-jung Peace Center, according to Park Jie-won, a long-time top aide to the former president, in which it said it had “arranged a delegation of special envoys” that would “bring a wreath.” The five-member delegation, it said, would include two members of the ruling Workers’ Party.

The North Korean message clearly caught South Korean officials by surprise. A spokeswoman at the South’s Unification Ministry, responsible for all dealings with North Korea, told Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, that her government had “received no such information yet from North Korea and was holding a comprehensive review” on the subject.

At the same time, a spokesman for South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak was quoted as saying there was “no reason to oppose [a North Korean delegation] if it intends to come to pay condolences.”

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il, has already sent condolences to Kim Dae-jung’s widow, Lee Hee-ho, who was at her husband’s bedside when he died on Tuesday.

Back to Sunshine Days?

The North Korean response harks back to the high hopes and emotions engendered by the first inter-Korean summit, in June 2000, at which the two Kims met in Pyongyang and issued a joint declaration resolving to settle differences. Six months later, Kim Dae-jung received the Nobel Peace Prize.

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