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NK proposes inter-Korean talks on possible Mt. Baekdu volcano

North Korea on Thursday proposed holding talks with South Korea on possible volcanic activities at its landmark mountain, Seoul's Unification Ministry said, amid reports of a looming eruption there that could affect the entire peninsula.

   Mount Paekdu, North Korea's highest mountain on the border with China, last erupted in 1903, but experts have warned that it may have an active core, citing topographical signs and satellite images. Recent earthquakes in China have deepened concerns over an eruption, with some Chinese experts setting the date as early as 2014.

   In the letter addressed to the South's national weather agency, the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA), North Korea said the two sides should discuss conducting joint research, on-site surveys and symposiums on the possible volcano at Mount Paekdu, the ministry said.

   In response, the South Korean government will "review (the

proposal) based on an understanding that there is a need for South-North cooperation" on the issue, an official said.

   The proposal from the North's earthquake bureau comes as the communist regime has been making repeated calls for talks with the South, a move that many officials here believe is a typical strategy to win aid for its impoverished people after sharply raising tensions on the peninsula.

   Inter-Korean relations deteriorated to their worst in decades after 50 South Koreans died last year in the North's shelling of a Southern border island and the downing of a South Korean warship, also blamed on the North.

   The KMA earlier said that it will start using one of its meteorological satellites in orbit next month to monitor possible volcanic activities at the 2,744-meter Mount Paekdu. It also plans to announce next month a series of measures South Korea should take in the case that there is an eruption.

   Experts have warned that an eruption would cause damage far greater than in Europe, where the eruption of an Icelandic volcano last year caused massive flight disruptions.

   Mount Paekdu also contains 1 billion tons of water, which could deluge surrounding regions and even spark political chaos in the impoverished North, experts say.

   The mountain is considered sacred by people of both Koreas. It is mentioned in South Korea's national anthem while Pyongyang claims its 69-year-old leader, Kim Jong-il, was born there, one of the most conspicuous elements of the personality cult surrounding him.

北, 백두산화산 협의 제의..정부 "검토"

북한이 백두산 화산 문제를 협의할 것을 우리 측에 제의해왔다.

    통일부는 17일 북측이 이날 오후 지진국장 명의로 백두산 화산 공동연구와 현지 답사, 학술토론회 등 협력사업을 추진시켜 나가기 위한 협의를 진행하자고 우리 측 기상청장 앞으로 전통문을 보내왔다고 밝혔다.

    정부는 "북측의 제의에 대해 남북 간 협력이 필요하다는 인식하에 이를(북측의제안을) 검토해 나갈 것"이라고 밝혔다.

    정부가 북측의 제의에 대해 긍정 검토를 시사함에 따라 백두산 화산 문제를  매 개로 조만간 남북 당국 간 회담이 개최될 수 있을 것으로 전망된다.

    지진 전문가들이 백두산 인근 지역에서 화산가스인 이산화황이 분출되고 있다고 주장하면서 백두산 화산 폭발 가능성이 제기됐다.

    일부에서는 2014~2015년 백두산 재폭발을 주장하고 있다.

    기상청은 백두산 화산활동과 관련, 이달 초 만일의 사태에 신속히 대응하기  위 해 '선제적 화산 대응 종합대책'을 발표했다.

    기상청은 이에 따라 다음 달부터 천리안 위성을 통해 화산활동이나 화산재 확산 을 감시하고 화산 분화·폭발에 대한 음파 관측소도 연내 신설하는 등 자체적인  화 산감시 체계를 구축해 나가기로 했다.

    백두산 화산은 946년 대규모 분화를 시작으로 1688년, 1702년, 1903년 재분화한 적이 있다. (연합뉴스)