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North Korea Reopens Border to South

y Kurt Achin
Seoul
10 March 2009

Recently heightened tensions between North and South Korea have eased in at least one way - North Korea is once again allowing a small number of South Koreans who do business in the North to cross the border. South Koreans were stranded in the North for about 24 hours.

South Korean Unification Ministry Spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun says activity at the North-South Korean border has returned at least partially to normal.

He says North Korea is allowing the passage of South Korean personnel and automobiles through the Military Demarcation Line separating the two countries.

On Monday, North Korea severed a key North-South military communications line used to arrange limited passage across the tense border. The North describes the move as a response to ongoing annual military drills between the United States and South Korea, which U.S. military leaders describe as routine and defensive. Washington deploys about 28,000 forces here to deter a repeat of the North's 1950 invasion of the South.

Limited numbers of South Koreans regularly cross back and forth to the North for business, mainly at a South Korean-managed industrial park in the North Korean city of Kaesong. Several hundred South Koreans were stranded for about 24 hours in Kaesong after the communications line was cut, but Seoul says the problem has been resolved.

Spokesman Kim says cross-border trips by people and vehicles to and from the Kaesong complex have returned to normal.

The Kaesong complex employs more than 35,000 North Koreans in simple manufacturing for South Korean companies that make apparel and household goods. Until last year, it was seen as the centerpiece of a South Korean policy that sought to win North Korean friendship with investment and aid from the South.

However, North Korea has refused dialogue and gradually severed most contacts with the South Korean administration of Lee Myung-bak, who Pyongyang labels a "traitor." Mr. Lee has delayed implementing previous agreements with the North calling for billions of dollars more of the South's money until there is progress on getting rid of the North's nuclear weapons and resolving other issues.

South Korean analysts say the North's decision to reopen the border is a tacit admission Pyongyang does not want to endanger the Kaesong zone, which is a major source of hard currency for the impoverished government. However, the North-South military communications line remains suspended - and border crossings have to be arranged for the time being via hand-written notes passed from one Korea to the other.



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