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S. Korean religious leaders to meet Kim Jong-il next week

SEOUL, Sept. 15 (Yonhap) -- The heads of South Korea's seven largest religious orders are scheduled to travel to Pyongyang next week to hold a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, a rare suprapartisan move aimed at promoting a breakthrough in inter-Korean relations, sources said Thursday.

The Korean Conference of Religion for Peace (KCRP), an organization representing the country's seven largest religious groups, has agreed with its North Korean counterpart on a four-day trip to Pyongyang starting Wednesday, according to the sources.

The North has not yet confirmed the KCRP's request to meet Kim, but said it expects "an event of meeting," the sources said, which is likely to lead to talks between the North Korean leader and the visiting religious officials.

The visiting officials are likely to convey the government's stance on the North's shelling of South Korean border islands last year if the talks are arranged.

The trip comes as religious officials are trying to improve inter-Korean ties and promote peace on the Korean peninsula amid heightened tension across the border following last year's two deadly attacks. Sources said the religious leaders held a meeting with Unification Minister Hyun In-taek last month in a bid to request permission for the cross-border visit.

The Unification Ministry said it has not yet received an application for the Pyongyang visit, but said it will review the agenda when an official application is filed.

The visit is the latest of a series of visits to North Korea by South Korean cultural and religious officials.

South Korean orchestra conductor Chung Myung-whun returned to Seoul on Thursday after a trip to North Korea. Chung conducted performances of the North's State Symphony Orchestra and the Unhasu Orchestra, according to the North's state media.

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