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North Korea announces prisoner amnesty to mark late leaders' birthdays

Meanwhile, North Korea’s ally China has been holding its first summit with South Korea since Kim Jong Il passed away.

Image: Andy Wong/AP/PA Images

NORTH KOREA has announced it will grant an amnesty to prisoners to mark the birthday of late leader Kim Jong Il’s 70th birthday next month and the 100th anniversary of his father’s birth, the state’s founder Kim Il Sung, in April.

The amnesty is also thought to be part of a wider effort to boost the popularity of Kim Jong Il’s son and successor Kim Jong Un.

The pardons are to be issued on 1 February, but it is not clear how many prisoners will be released, Yonhap reports. A UN human rights group said last year that up to 200,000 people are being detained in prison camps, which North Korea has denied.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s president has issued pardons for 955 convicts to mark the Lunar New Year on 23 January.

News of the North Korean pardon comes as its ally China holds its first joint summit with South Korea since Kim Jong Il passed away  in mid-December. South Korea’s presidential office said that the two states have agreed to work together to support peace in the Korean peninsula and will also begin negotiation a free trade agreement.

Seoul also said that it hoped the state visit to China would “serve as a milestone for enhanced cooperation and exchanges between the two neighbours”.

In a New Year’s message to his government, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak urged North Korea to use the transition of power to Kim Jong Un as an opportunity to bring a new era of peace between the two, who are technically still at war.

- Additional reporting by the AP

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