x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

South opposition delegation visits N Korea

An opposition party delegation was taking a message from the South Korean government to the North after Pyongyang threatened to halt border crossings.

SEOUL // An opposition party delegation was taking a message from the South Korean government to the North today to try to improve relations that soured after Pyongyang threatened to halt border crossings. The Democratic Labour Party group was travelling to North Korea via China, Jun Kwon-hee, a party leadership aide, told The Associated Press. The Vice Unification Minister Hong Yang-ho met opposition leader Kang Ki-kap on Thursday and asked him to tell Pyongyang that Seoul has not turned away from deals reached at two bilateral summits and that they are ready to discuss how to implement them, Mr Jun said.

North Korea has accused South Korea's new conservative government of ignoring accords reached at the 2000 and 2007 summits - under which the North was promised a shipbuilding factory, and rail and raid improvements - and has stepped up rhetoric against the South. The North's military said on Wednesday it would "restrict and cut off" cross-border routes from Dec 1. The ban could force the closure of dozens of South Korean factories operating at a joint industrial park in the North's border city of Kaesong - a symbolic rejection of South Korean efforts since 2000 to foster reconciliation through commerce.

South Korea's government said it urged the North not to stop development of the lucrative industrial zone. The Kaesong complex, where South Korean factories employ some 35,000 North Koreans, has been a key source of currency for the impoverished North. In the message from Seoul to Pyongyang, Mr Hong also promised the government would "make strong efforts to stop" activists from sending leaflets critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il across the border attached to balloons, Mr Jun said.

The North - which is very sensitive to outside criticism of its leader - has accused the South of violating a 2004 pact prohibiting cross-border propaganda, and has warned of military confrontation if the leaflets keep arriving. South Korea's government has said there are no legal grounds for prosecuting those who send the leaflets, citing freedom of expression. Inter-Korean relations have soured since president Lee Myung-bak, a pro-US conservative, took office in February, pledging to get tough with the North.

Ties deteriorated further in July when a North Korean soldier fatally shot a South Korean tourist visiting Diamond Mountain, another joint project in the North. Seoul since has banned tours to the popular resort. *AP