August 21, 2009 08:37
North Korea is lifting restrictions on overland travel across the border which it imposed on Dec. 1 last year. The North informed South Korea of the decision on Friday. It also told the South that a delegation of six officials is attending the funeral of former President Kim Dae-jung, who died on Tuesday. A direct telephone line was opened temporarily between Seoul and Pyongyang at the North's request, the Unification Ministry said.
North Korea apparently decided to lift the restrictions in view of government-level talks which could happen on the sidelines of the funeral.
A ministry official said, "A senior working-level military officer sent us a fax saying it will lift overland traffic restrictions as of Friday. This seems to be in accordance with an agreement reached last week between Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun and North Korean officials." In the agreement, the North promised to revert to the "status quo ante" regarding overland traffic and the stay in North Korea by South Korean workers "according to the spirit of the summit declaration of Oct. 4, 2007," the official added.
Since Dec. 1, the North reduced the frequency of travel across the border by South Korean workers from 12 entries and 7 exits per day to 3 entries and 3 exits. It also cut the number of workers and vehicles for each travel from 500 people and 200 cars to 250 and 150.
It remains to be seen whether the move brings only normalization of overland travel or an overall lifting of the restrictions it imposed on Dec. 1, which also cover the limit on the number of South Korean personnel who can stay permanently at the joint Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex, the closure of the office of inter-Korean economic cooperation talks, and the suspension of service of the Seoul-Sinuiju Railway.
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