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Two Koreas Hold Ministerial Meeting

Delegations of South Korea and North Korea held their first plenary session of the inter-Korean ministerial meeting Wednesday at a hotel in South Korean southern resort island of Jeju.

At the opening of the two-hour session, South Korea's chief delegate and Unification Minister Chung Dong-young stressed the need to improve inter-Korean relations.

"The North-South relationship must enter an era that lacks confrontation, repeated stalls and agony of the people," Chung was quoted by South Korean Yonhap News Agency as saying in his opening remarks at the beginning of the session.

In return, the North Korean chief delegate and Cabinet Councilor Kwang Ho Ung said "We must work to produce good results (at the talks) with the common goal of national unity in mind."

After the two chief delegates delivered opening remarks, the two teams held closed-door session.

The meeting is the 17th round of its kind since year 2000. The talks are scheduled to be concluded on Friday.

Agenda of the new round of the meeting is hoped to include South Korean prisoners of war (POWs) of the Korean War (1950-1953) and abduction victims in the North, according to the South Korean Unification Ministry.

South Korea claims dozens of its POWs and abductees are living in North Korea, but the latter declines the existence of such crowd of South Koreans in its territory.

Moreover, the two sides are expected to discuss the issue of resuming the inter-Korean general-level military talks. They held two rounds of military talks between their general-grade officials in 2004, but a third round has yet to be convened.

The two sides are also expected to discuss the ways to increase and deepen inter-Korean exchanges.

Previously, the South Korean Unification Ministry expressed its will to use the chance to state South Korea's stance over the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula and persuade North Korea to return to the six-party nuclear talks as early as possible.

The first stage of the fifth round of six-party nuclear talks concluded in November in Beijing. China, North Korea, the United States, Russia, South Korea and Japan agreed to reopen the second phase of fifth round of the talks at an early date.

However, up to now, the concerning parties did not set an exact date for the resumption of the talks due to escalating tension between North Korea and the US.

The US froze the US-based assets of eight North Korea companies in late October, accusing them of proliferating weapons of mass destruction.

Pyongyang said last week that it would boycott the nuclear talks until Washington lifts the financial sanctions, denying the companies have relations with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The two delegations are scheduled to visit historical sites on the southern resort island later in the day following a joint lunch.

(Xinhua News Agency December 15, 2005)

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