North Korea has said it would lift border restrictions and restart family reunions and visits for South Korean tourists, raising hopes of an easing of tensions after months of bitter hostility. But in a sign of continuing friction, the hardline communist state also warned of "a merciless and prompt annihilating strike" involving nuclear weapons if a US-South Korean military exercise infringes its sovereignty.
The tourism agreement was disclosed a day after a meeting in Pyongyang between North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and Hyun Jung-Eun, the chairwoman of the South's giant Hyundai Group which operates joint tourism and business ventures. Ms Hyun travelled to the North last week and won the release of an employee detained since March for allegedly criticising Pyongyang's regime. Earlier this month the North pardoned two American journalists after the former US president Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang and held talks with Mr Kim. The North reportedly indicated to him that it wants better US ties.
Cross-border relations have soured since a conservative South Korean government came to power in February 2008 and scrapped the "sunshine" aid and engagement policy of its liberal predecessors. The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said tours to the scenic Mount Kumgang resort on the east coast and to Kaesong, a historic city near the west coast, would resume as soon as possible. It said the North would allow South Korean tourists more access to Mount Kumgang and a new tour to Mount Paekdu near its border with China.
The North also promised to lift limitations on border crossings by businessmen visiting a Seoul-funded industrial estate at Kaesong. It had never closed the frontier. It said it would in early October resume reunions of families separated since the 1950-1953 war. * AFP