N. Korea calls for improved relations with Seoul

N. Korea calls for improved relations with Seoul
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a speech during his New Year address.

NORTH KOREA - North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un on Wednesday called on the two Koreas to work toward better relations and emphasised economic growth, raising cautious optimism amid escalated tension in the wake of the execution of his uncle.

In his second verbal New Year's address as the communist state's leader, Kim said it is "time to end aspersions that do no good," urging Seoul to come forward to improve cross-border ties.

The remarks appear to contain relatively clearer reconciliatory signals than last year's, which underscored the need for defused tension on the peninsula and efforts for unification.

"The South's government must avoid waging reckless fratricidal confrontation, make no fuss about pro-North forces, heed the people's voice calling for an independent, democratic unification, and come forward to improve its relations with the North," Kim said during the 25-minute speech aired by the official Korean Central Television.

"We will move forward together with anyone who values the people and wishes (for) unification regardless of his past, and actively make efforts for the improvement of North-South relations."

The young leader emphasised a robust economy buttressed by agriculture, construction and science as key to a "new leap into a strong, prosperous socialist nation" this year.

While last year's speech focused on agriculture and light industries for economic development, the latest one singled out construction, fisheries and protection of underground resources and forests as core areas.

Kim did not explicitly refer to the nuclear programme, though he vowed to maintain a "strong deterrent" against "external threats of a nuclear war."

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