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N. Korea goal: "impregnable fortress'

In New Year's messages for 1999, North Korea urged its people to turn the country into an "impregnable fortress" while South Korea vowed to continue a policy of engagement toward the communist North.

After a year when it had to take in large amounts of foreign aid to ward off starvation among its 22-million people, North Korea emphasized the need to rebuild ideological and military strength.

"Let 1999 mark a new turning point in building a powerful nation," said the message from the ruling Communist Party, the military and youth groups, which was carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

The message called for unity around North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his million-member army. It asked people to "love rifles, earnestly learn military affairs and turn the whole country into an impregnable fortress."

In a change, media did not rebroadcast the final New Year's message of the previous leader, Kim Il Sung, as they have since his 1994 death. It was seen by many as a tribute to his son, the current leader.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, meanwhile, said he hoped 1998 reforms would bring a rebound in his country's ailing economy in the new year.

"Although it is too early to be optimistic, we have already rung out the bell for the year of trial," Kim said in his New Year's message.

Seoul officials cautiously predict the economy will rebound from a 7 percent contraction in 1998 to 1 to 2 percent growth in 1999, a forecast shared by many world economic experts.

Kim also said his government will continue its "sunshine policy" to promote economic and other non-governmental exchanges with the North.

"I will not neglect to take thorough preparations against North Korean provocations but I will continue to maintain the position of active engagement if North Korea shows a positive attitude," he said.

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