N Korean leader seeks to end tensions with South

N Korean leader seeks to end tensions with South

N Korean leader seeks to end tensions with South

Updated 1 January 2013, 22:40 AEDT

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has called for an end to confrontation between the two Koreas, in a surprise New Year speech broadcast on state media.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has called for a "radical turnabout" in the country's economy in a rare New Year's address that also appeared to offer an olive branch to South Korea.

Kim's speech on Tuesday, broadcast on state television, was the first of its kind for 19 years.

His father and the country's previous ruler, Kim Jong-Il, never made a major address to his people.

The year 2013 will be one of "great creations and changes in which a radical turnabout will be effected", Kim said, adding that "the building of an economic giant is the most important task" facing the country.

Praising the success of the country's space scientists in launching a long-range rocket last month, Kim said a similar national effort was now needed on the economic front.

"The entire party, the whole country and all the people should wage an all-out struggle this year to effect a turnaround in building an economic giant and improving the people's standard of living," he said.

But he offered no specifics for how this might be achieved by the isolated state.

The address will be closely scrutinised in South Korea, which has just elected its first woman president, the conservative Park Geun-Hye, who has signalled a desire for greater engagement with Pyongyang.

Kim's tone was conciliatory as he urged a scaling down of tensions between the two Koreas who remain technically at war.

"An important issue in putting an end to the division of the country and achieving its reunification is to remove confrontation between the North and the South," Kim said.

"The past records of inter-Korean relations show that confrontation between fellow countrymen leads to nothing but war," he added.

In his address Kim made it clear that building the economy did not mean a complete shift away from his father's "military first" policy.

The UN Security Council is still considering whether to punish Pyongyang for its rocket launch, which most of the world saw as a disguised ballistic missile test.

The speech lauded the launch as a historic national achievement and stressed the need to develop more "sophisticated military hardware".

But Kim made no mention of the North's nuclear weapons program, despite growing speculation that Pyongyang is preparing to conduct a nuclear test following the rocket success.

Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies, said the general tone of Kim's speech was positive.

"It might signal limited economic reforms this year and also sends a message to South Korea's incoming president about a desire for improved cross-border relations," Yang said.

AFP/Reuters