Paek rebuffed calls to hold a joint meeting there with other foreign ministers to discuss the North's nuclear plans. Pyongyang conducted its first nuclear test three months later, on October 9.

 

"Leader Kim Jong-il Wednesday sent a wreath to the bier of the late Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun, deputy to the DPRK (North Korea) Supreme People's Assembly, expressing deep condolences over his death," official sources said.

 

No further details were given.

   

History of illness

 

Born on March 13, 1929, in the northern province of Ryanggang, Paek was involved for many years with the North Korean Red Cross.

   

Paek led the North Korean Red Cross shipment of rice in 1984 after the South was hit by extensive flooding. He visited the South as late as 1990 for initial talks during fledgling attempts at inter-Korean dialogue.

   

A heavy-set man with a history of illness, Paek often sought medical help during his few visits overseas, government sources in Seoul said.

   

One of his last achievements as foreign minister came at a meeting of Association of South East Asian Nations ministers in Vientiane in 2005 where he held talks with several foreign ministers, including the South's Ban Ki-moon.

   

The meeting with Ban, who this week became UN secretary-general, was only the third meeting of foreign ministers from the divided Korean peninsula.