In a rare retreat, Long Island's North Fork Bancorp. has sold most of its 5% stake in a Queens thrift after being stonewalled for two months in its efforts to open merger talks.

The sale in late July by Mattituck, N.Y.-based North Fork of 180,000 shares in Haven Bancorp reduced its stake in the Woodhaven-based thrift to 30,000 shares, or less than 1% of the total.

"Despite repeated efforts by North Fork to enter into discussions with Haven Bancorp, the company has refused to meet with representatives of North Fork to explore the parameters of such a combination and the potential value it could bring," North Fork officials wrote in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"North Fork has determined that the common stock no longer represents an attractive investment," they wrote.

Haven officials declined to comment. North Fork chief executive John Adam Kanas was not available.

North Fork had bought its stake in Haven, parent of Columbia Federal Savings Bank, in May and had sought Federal Reserve approval to buy up to 9.9% of the thrift's shares.

North Fork's Mr. Kanas also sent a letter to Haven officials in late June reiterating the bank's desire for merger talks and requesting a meeting. Mr. Kanas offered to negotiate a transaction using either stock or cash.

However, Haven officials refused to meet and protested to the Fed against North Fork's application for approval of a 9.9% stake. North Fork withdrew that application after selling the stock.

Mr. Kanas has used the same aggressive investment style to pressure other New York-area institutions, including Suffolk Bancorp and Sunrise Bancorp. Sunrise eventually sold itself to Reliance Bancorp, while Suffolk bought back North Fork's stake after months of bitter public fighting.

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