South Korea lifts temporary travel ban to North

January 4th, 2012 - 3:16 am ICT by BNO News  

SEOUL (BNO NEWS) — The government of South Korea has decided to lift a temporary ban on civilian visits to North Korea, a government official in Seoul confirmed on Tuesday.

Seoul banned all visits to North Korea on December 19 after the communist state announced the death of its leader Kim Jong-il. The only exception to the ban, which triggered an angry response from North Korea, were visits to an inter-Korean industrial park in the border town of Kaesong.

“As the mourning period for Chairman Kim (Jong-il) has ended, we will act accordingly when civilians apply for a visit to North Korea,” an official at South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations, told the Yonhap news agency.

Kim Jong-il’s funeral took place last Wednesday and was followed by a huge memorial service in Pyongyang on Thursday to wrap up a 13-day mourning period for the late leader. According to the North Korean government, Kim Jong-il died on December 17 after suffering an ‘advanced, acute myocardial infarction, complicated with a heart shock,’ while on a train for a ‘field guidance tour’.

South Koreans are required by law to receive state approval before traveling to the North. The temporary ban, among other measures, were harshly condemned by the North Korean military as ‘hideous crimes’ and warned it may launch a retaliatory strike to ’smash the stronghold of the puppet forces.’

“Expressing condolences and sending condolatory messages have been good manners and customs and ethical tradition peculiar to the Korean nation from the ancient times,” the North Korean Defense Commission said in a statement on Friday, referring to groups of South Koreans who were denied access to North Korea to convey their condolences. “It is for this reason that we brand the evil act of the Lee group (the South Korean government, led by President Lee Myung-bak) as treason bereft of elementary human reason and morality.”

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula, which remains in a technical state of war, have been at critical since the 2010 sinking of the ROKS Cheonan, a South Korean Navy ship carrying 104 people. The incident left 46 people killed and a South Korean-led international investigation blamed a North Korean torpedo which was allegedly fired from a midget submarine, although the North insists it was not responsible.

Months after the sinking of the ship, North Korean forces bombarded the disputed Yeonpyeong Island. The artillery engagement from the North, which claims it acted in ’self-defense’, left two South Korean civilians killed while the South’s return fire killed at least five people in North Korea.

The 1950-1953 Korean War, which left millions of people killed, ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

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