Cross-border traffic between North and South Korea resumed Tuesday after Pyongyang lifted tough border restrictions along its heavily fortified frontier following months of hostility.
AFP - North Korea Tuesday lifted tough restrictions on South Korean traffic across the heavily fortified border, its latest apparent goodwill gesture after months of hostility.
Operations have returned to normal after nine months of curbs, with 12 daily crossings permitted northbound to the Seoul-funded Kaesong industrial estate as of Tuesday plus 11 return trips a day, Seoul's unification ministry said.
"Entry by South Koreans to the North is smoothly underway," said ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-Joo.
Pyongyang, protesting at the tougher policy of Seoul's conservative government, last December cut back daily crossings to just three each way and ordered hundreds of South Korean staff to quit Kaesong.
They have now been allowed to return.
The restrictions had hit business at the estate developed as a symbol of reconciliation, where 40,000 North Koreans work for some 100 South Korean textile and other companies.
In talks with a visiting Hyundai executive, whose group runs cross-border businesses, the North's leader Kim Jong-Il last month expressed willingness to restart tourist trips, ease border controls and resume a family reunion programme.
Kaesong factory owners expressed relief at the thaw in ties.
Ok Sung-Seok, chief of apparel maker Nine Mode Co, said his sales had fallen by 30 percent since December. Buyers, mostly South Korean department stores, reduced orders amid increasing uncertainty about the estate's future.
"This traffic normalisation, along with the family reunion talks, cleared up buyers' anxiety," Ok told Yonhap news agency. "Our sales are returning to normal, to the level of 2008."
On Tuesday the North and South exchanged names of 200 people who have been separated from relatives since the 1950-1953 Korean War.
After the lists are narrowed down, 100 people from each side will hold temporary reunions with long-lost loved ones from September 26 to October 1.
After more than a year of tensions, worsened by a missile launch and nuclear test this spring, the North has made a series of conciliatory moves.
Some analysts speculate it is trying to revive lucrative cross-border businesses and ease the impact of toughened United Nations sanctions.
In its first conciliatory move, the North in early August pardoned and freed two US reporters after a visit by former US president Bill Clinton. It expressed interest in direct talks with Washington to end the nuclear standoff.
Pyongyang also freed five detained South Koreans, and sent a team to Seoul to mourn ex-president Kim Dae-Jung and hold talks with President Lee Myung-Bak.
Date created : 2009-09-01