South Korea warns of a strong stern and stern response to any form of military aggression from the North [AFP]

Lee Myung-bak, the South Korean president, has said he was open to dialogue with the North but warned Pyongyang that any military aggression would be meet with a strong and stern response.

Lee said in a nationally televised New Year address on Monday that it was up to the North to show it was serious about dialogue, and added that Seoul was willing to offer economic aid.

The comments came two days after the North called for an end to confrontation with the South, urging dialogue after one of the most violent years on the divided peninsula since the 1950-53 Korean War. 

"I remind the North that the path to peace is still open. The door for dialogue is still open," Lee said, soon after warning that Seoul would not "let North Korea covet even an inch of our territory".

Tension remains
Tension between the rival Koreas has risen sharply after the North shelled an island in the South near their disputed sea border in November, killing four including two civilians.

In March, the South blamed Pyongyang for torpedoing one of its navy ships, killing 46 sailors.

The North denies the charge. South Korea had previously brushed aside the North's overtures for dialogue, saying it must be preceded by actions that show it was serious about abandoning aggression and sitting down for discussions.

North Korea has said it is willing to return to six-way nuclear disarmament talks, which had been stalled for more than two years after Pyongyang rejected inspections of its atomic facilities.

The US envoy responsible for policy toward North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, will visit Seoul on Tuesday to discuss the next steps on the Korean peninsula, the State Department said.

He will then visit China and Japan this week for further consultations on North Korean issues.
The US envoy for nuclear talks with North Korea, Sung Kim, will accompany Bosworth to Seoul and Beijing.

Source: Agencies