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Widow of ex-South Korean leader who favored reconciliation with Pyongyang to visit North

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SEOUL, South Korea — The 92-year-old widow of late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who was a strong proponent of Korean reconciliation, will visit North Korea early next month, ex-aides to Kim said Monday.

Lee Hee-ho's planned Aug. 5-8 trip comes amid continuing animosity between the rival Koreas following the recent opening of a U.N. office in Seoul tasked with monitoring what activists call the North's widespread abuse of its citizens' rights. Pyongyang, which calls any criticism of its rights record a U.S.-led attempt to topple its authoritarian government, has said the U.N. office is a provocation and warned that Seoul and Washington would face unspecified consequences.

On Monday, however, North Korean officials and ex-aides to Kim agreed on Lee's trip while meeting at the North Korean border city of Kaesong, the president's former culture minister, Kim Sung-jae, told reporters.

A detailed itinerary hasn't been settled, but Lee's trip could help ease tensions if she meets with top North Korean officials such as leader Kim Jong Un.

Last year, Kim Jong Un invited Lee to visit after thanking her for sending condolence flowers on the third anniversary of the death of his father, former leader Kim Jong Il.

Kim Jong Il and Kim Dae-jung held the first-ever summit between the two Koreas in 2000. Their meeting spawned a flurry of cooperation projects, which have mostly been put on hold since conservatives took power in Seoul in 2008 and mostly ended big aid shipments to North Korea.

Kim Dae-jung, who died in 2009 at the age of 85, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his reconciliation efforts with Pyongyang.

The two Koreas remain in a technical state of war since their three-year war in the early 1950s ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

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