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Koreas to discuss landmark volcano

South Korea has accepted North Korea's proposal to hold talks about an active volcano celebrated in the North as the sacred birthplace of Kim Jong Il.

The proposal North Korea made last week to discuss studies and field surveys of Mount Paektu came amid renewed attention to natural disasters following Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The volcano, which is known as Baekdu in South Korea, last erupted in 1903 but minor earthquakes have occurred there between 2002 and 2005, South Korean officials say.

South Korea replied to the offer by proposing that private experts of the two countries meet first and discuss the issue at a South Korean border village on March 29, the South Korean ministry of unification said.

"In the message, we said we agree on the need to co-operate," the ministry said in a statement.

North Korea appears to have used Japan's earthquake and tsunami disasters to propose talks about Mount Paektu, said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University.

The proposed talks among volcano experts will likely lead to government-level discussions and could work as a "lubricant" to smooth strained inter-Korean ties, Mr Kim said.

Paektu is considered sacred by North Korea and is touted as one of the peninsula's most beautiful sites. North Koreans believe it is the birthplace of absolute leader Kim Jong Il, though western experts say he was born in the then-Soviet Union.

Official portraits of Kim Jong Il and his late father, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, often show them standing in front of Paektu. The mountain sits on the North Korea-China border.

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