Top North Korea officials visit South, say Kim Jong Un's health fine

In what sparked hopes of smoothening the shaky ties between the two Koreas, top leaders from North Korea visited South and held talks with officials there.

Updated: Oct 05, 2014, 15:40 PM IST
Top North Korea officials visit South, say Kim Jong Un's health fine

Pyongyang: In what sparked hopes of smoothening the shaky ties between the two Koreas, top leaders from North Korea visited South and held talks with officials there.

The North Korean delegation that consisted of members close to Kim Jong Un, met South Korea's Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-Jae in what is the highest level face-to-face talks in five years.

During the meeting, a North Korean official rubbished the rumours surrounding the health of Kim Jong Un, reported the AFP.

One of the members of the delegation from North told South Korean minister that there was nothing wrong about their leader Kim Jong Un's health, said the report.

"There is nothing wrong with the health of Secretary Kim," Ryoo Kihl-Jae quoted North Korea's Kim Yang-Gon as saying, added the AFP.

Kim was last seen in public on Sep 3 in a music concert and speculations regarding his ill-health were sparked by his absence at a rare session of North's rubber stamp Parliament.

A recent official documentary showed footage from August of him limping and overweight and mentioned he had been feeling "discomfort."

Meanwhile, in what is seen by the analysts as a "golden opportunity" for South Korean President Park Geun-hye to test North Korea's willingness, at the highest levels, to improve shaky ties, top officials from Pyongyang made a visit to Seoul.

North Korea's presumptive No. 2 and other members of Pyongyang's inner circle met with South Korean officials Saturday in the rivals' highest level face-to-face talks in five years, a possible indication that both sides are interested in pursuing better ties after months of animosity.

There appeared to be no major breakthrough from the meeting that came as the North's delegation made a surprise visit to the close of the Asian Games in the South Korean port city of Incheon. But the countries agreed to hold another round of talks between the end of October and the beginning of November, according to a South Korean statement. The specific topics of Saturday's discussions weren't immediately known.

Still, just the fact that North Koreans at the highest levels visited the South was significant, allowing valuable contact between confidants of North Korea's authoritarian leader and senior South Korean officials after a year that has seen a steady stream of insults between the divided neighbors and an unusual number of North Korean missile and rocket test firings.

The South Korean statement said Park had been willing to meet with the Pyongyang officials, but the North Koreans were running out of time because they had to attend the Asian Games' closing ceremonies Saturday evening. South Korea said its prime minister, largely a figurehead but technically the No. 2 position, would meet with the delegation later Saturday.

The visit comes amid rumors in Seoul about the health of Kim Jong Un, who has made no public appearances since Sept. 3 and skipped a high-profile recent event he usually attends.

Both sides expressed hope for better relations in comments to the media ahead of the private meeting.

High-level North Korean visits to South Korea have been scarce since inter-Korean relations became strained after Park's conservative predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, took office in early 2008 with a tough line on the North. Attacks blamed on North Korea in 2010 killed 50 South Koreans.

The last such senior visit south was in 2009, when high-ranking Workers' Party official Kim Ki Nam and spy chief Kim Yang Gon, the same official who visited Saturday, came to pay their respects to the late liberal South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. The North Koreans met Lee, conveyed a message from then-leader Kim Jong Il and discussed inter-Korean cooperation.

Senior officials from the rival Koreas — lower-level than those who met Saturday — met at a border village in February for talks that dealt with key inter-Korean issues such as South Korea-U.S. military drills and the resumption of reunions of Korean War-divided families. In August, South Korea proposed another round of talks to discuss about the family reunions.

The next round of talks will follow up on Saturday's discussions and the issues discussed in February, South Korean officials said.

Besides the North Korean test firings of about 100 rockets and missiles this year, both sides have leveled harsh criticism at each other, with North Korean state media calling the South Korean president a prostitute.

With Agency Inputs