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Jimmy Carter arrives in North Korea

Former US president Jimmy Carter and other past world leaders have arrived in Pyongyang hoping to meet with North Korea's leader as part of a mission to discuss dangerous food shortages and stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

Mr Carter was joined by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, former Norwegian prime minister Gro Brundtland and former Irish president Mary Robinson for the three-day visit to North Korea.

The former leaders were not told ahead of their trip who they would meet with, but said they hoped to see North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his son and heir apparent Kim Jong Un.

The mission comes as diplomats struggle to find a way to restart talks meant to persuade the North to abandon its atomic weapons ambitions. Dismal ties between North and South Korea, which have ruined efforts to restart the nuclear talks, are also likely to be on the agenda.

Animosity has soared between the neighbours since the North allegedly torpedoed a South Korean warship in March 2010. Pyongyang shelled a South Korean island in November, killing two civilians and two marines.

South Korea is demanding an apology for both incidents before allowing deeper talks, but North Korea says it was not responsible for the sinking of the warship.

Before flying from Beijing to Pyongyang, Mr Carter told South Korea's Yonhap news agency that he did not intend to raise the case of Korean-American Jun Young Su, who is being held in North Korea, reportedly on charges of carrying out missionary activity.

The US State Department said last month that Mr Carter would not be carrying any official messages.

In 1994, Mr Carter travelled to North Korea during another period of high tension over the North's nuclear programme. He met with then-leader Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il's father and the North's founder, and helped broker a US-North Korea nuclear deal.

He last visited North Korea in August to secure the release of imprisoned American Aijalon Gomes, who had been sentenced to eight years of hard labour for crossing into the North from China. Mr Carter did not meet with Kim then because the leader was on a rare visit to China, his nation's biggest ally and aid provider.

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