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Kim Jong Un 'open-minded' about talks with South

Pyongyang has said it is ready to initiate peace talks with South Korea. However, Seoul would need to refrain from any acts disturbing the "conciliatory atmosphere," Kim Jong Un said.

In his New Year's speech, broadcast on North Korean national television, Kim Jong Un said that his country was willing to engage in dialogue with the South.

"We will continue to work patiently to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula and regional stability. But if invasive outsiders and provocateurs touch us even slightly, we will not be forgiving in the least and will sternly answer with a merciless, holy war of justice," Kim said, albeit devoting a much greater portion of his address to criticism of Seoul's approach to inter-Korean talks and of its alliance with the US.

The leader did not directly say he wanted to talk with Seoul and Washington, but said he was open to talks with those interested in "reconciliation and peace." He also promised to improve his country's struggling economy and urged his military to advance its technologies to develop more "diversified attack means."

Ties between the two countries were stretched this year after a landmine explosion badly injured two South Korean soldiers in August, prompting artillery fire between the North and South. The two parties agreed to defuse tensions in October last year, agreeing to reunions of families that had split between the two countries.

Talks between the two neighbors

ended in mid-December without any agreement.

Seoul and Pyongyang remain in a state of war after the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a truce without a peace agreement. Seoul considers its northern counterpart a threat because of its repeated missile tests and nuclear weapons program. The North, in turn, feels threatened from

South Korea's diplomatic proximity to the USA.

mg/msh (AFP, dpa)

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