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SEOUL, South Korea – The 92-year-old widow of late South Korean President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kim Dae-jung left Wednesday for a four-day visit to North Korea.
There are hopes among some South Koreans that Lee Hee-ho's trip could help ease continuing tension between the rivals. Aides say it is not clear if Lee will have a chance to meet top North Korean officials, such as leader Kim Jong Un, before returning to Seoul on Saturday.
"Lee hopes that her visit paves the way for more dialogues, exchanges and cooperation" between the Koreas, Kim Sung-jae, a former South Korean culture minister who is part of Lee's delegation, told reporters at a Seoul airport before boarding a flight to Pyongyang.
Kim Dae-jung, who died in 2009, was a strong supporter of rapprochement with Pyongyang and held landmark inter-Korean summit talks in 2000 with Kim Jong Un's father and late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. He won the Nobel Peace Prize later in 2000 for his efforts to reconcile with North Korea.
Those summit talks spawned a flurry of cooperation projects, but most of them have been put on hold since conservatives took power in Seoul in 2008 and ended big aid shipments to North Korea.
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.
According to Lee's official itinerary, she will visit a maternity clinic, an orphanage and a children's hospital in North Korea.
Relations between the Koreas have become testy in recent months over the opening of a U.N. office in Seoul tasked with monitoring North Korea's dismal human rights situation and the North's refusal to release several South Koreans detained there.