S. Korea brushes off North's 'bland' New Year message

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea on Wednesday dismissed a rare New Year's message from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as "bland" despite his apparent overture to Seoul about reducing tensions.

"The message was bland and there were no ground-breaking proposals," Unification Minister Yu Woo Ik told reporters.

Mr Kim's speech on Wednesday was notable for being delivered in person, rather than through the state media as had been the tradition with his father and former leader Kim Jong Il who died in Dec 2011.

It was the first of its kind for 19 years, since the death of Mr Kim's grandfather and the North's founding president Kim Il Sung.

In his address, Mr Kim stressed the need to build his impoverished nation's economy and to ease tensions between the two Koreas, which remain technically at war.

"An important issue in putting an end to the division of the country and achieving its reunification is to remove confrontation between the North and the South," Mr Kim said.

"The past records of inter-Korean relations show that confrontation between fellow countrymen leads to nothing but war," he added.

Minister Yu said Mr Kim's remarks may have been aimed at new or transitional leaderships in China, Japan and South Korea, but added that Seoul had good historical reasons for treating peace overtures warily.

Efforts to engage Pyongyang with "good intentions" in the past had made little progress, he said.

South Korean president-elect Park Geun Hye, who will take office in February, has signalled a desire for greater engagement with Pyongyang.