North Korea: Kim Jong-un's number two makes surprise visit to South

Both North and South have agreed to further talks later in the year

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The Independent Online

A man widely considered in North Korea to be the most important official after Kim Jong-un has led a delegation in a rare trip to South Korea, in the first high-level face-to-face talks in five years.

Hwang Pyong-so, the country’s top political officer, made the surprise trip to Seoul to attend the closing ceremony of the Asian Games.

Mr Hwang and two North Korean officials met with South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae on Saturday.

The pair agreed to a second round of high-level talks between the end of October and the beginning of November, according to the Yonhap news agency.

The topics of discussions or the future talks were not immediately known.

Their visit comes as speculation mounts over the health of Supreme Leader Kim, who has not been seen in public for over a month.

The heavily overweight North Korean leader was last seen limping and state media has confirmed he is suffering ‘discomfort’. Reports have suggested a variety of reasons as to his month-long absence, including that he may be recovering from ankle surgery or even suffering from gout.

Mr Hwang’s visit suggests the notoriously secretive country is looking to build ties with South Korea, despite the two countries still technically being at war.

It follows months of tensions, including a steady stream of insults between the divided neighbours and an unusual number of North Korean missile and rocket test firings.

Additional reporting by agencies