Page last updated at 15:35 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 16:35 UK

North Korea to lift border curbs

South Korean lorries at the border heading to Kaesong - 18 August 2009
Cargo lorries bound for Kaesong were only allowed to travel at certain times

North Korea has said it will ease restrictions on cross-border traffic imposed last year amid rising tensions with the South.

The restrictions were placed on workers and cargo travelling to the joint factory zone at Kaesong, in the North.

It is the latest in a series of what analysts are seeing as conciliatory gestures from North Korea.

South Korea earlier approved the visit of a delegation from Pyongyang for the funeral of ex-President Kim Dae-jung.

The easing of border restrictions, to begin Friday, means more South Korean citizens and cargo lorries will be allowed to travel to Kaesong, which employs mostly North Korean workers in Southern-owned businesses.

It follows offers from Pyongyang to resume reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 war and to restart tourist visits from the South.

The North also said it would restore an official communication channel as a team prepares to head to Seoul for Kim Dae-jung's funeral, to be held on Sunday.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson with North Korean delegate Myong Gil-kim in Santa Fe (19 August 2009)

The North Koreans are sending good signals that they're ready to talk directly to the US
Bill Richardson, US politician

Seoul has given its approval for the visitors. It will be the highest level delegation from the North to visit the South in at least two years and includes several senior aides to the North's leader Kim Jong-il.

The late Kim Dae-jung was renowned for his efforts at dialogue with the North. His death on Tuesday after being treated for pneumonia prompted a condolence message to his family from Kim Jong-il which praised his efforts to reunify Korea.

The North and South are still technically at war, as a peace treaty was never concluded at the end the war.

Relations between the two Koreas thrived under Kim Dae-jung's presidency, but took a turn for the worse when conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office last year and cut the flow of aid, tying its resumption to nuclear disarmament.

'Lessening of tension'

After a recent offer by the North to restart family reunion programmes, the South Korean office of the Red Cross proposed fresh talks on the issue for next week.

The reunions were suspended as relations worsened last year.

The offer to resume them, and tourist visits, came during a meeting last week between Kim Jong-il and the head of the Hyundai Group, a major investor in North Korea.

Kim Dae-jung attended the funeral of former President Roh Moo-hyun in a wheelchair - 29 May 2009
Mr Kim's Sunshine Policy led to improved relations with North Korea

Hyun Jung-eun, chairwoman of Hyundai, secured the release of one of her employees, detained by the North since March.

On Wednesday, US politician Bill Richardson held rare talks with North Korean envoys in his state of New Mexico.

Mr Richardson, New Mexico's governor, said he had detected a "lessening of tension" since former US President Bill Clinton's recent visit to Pyongyang.

But he said North Korea still refused to return to multilateral talks on nuclear disarmament.

He said the recent visit by Mr Clinton to North Korea, to secure to the release of two US journalists, had "helped thaw relations".

Pyongyang had "obviously used the journalists as a bargaining chip" and was now seeking a "gesture" in return, Mr Richardson said.

"The North Koreans are sending good signals, that they're ready to talk directly to the United States," he said.

The BBC's Charles Scanlon said North Korea's diplomacy is following a familiar pattern - first belligerence: the walkouts and flaunting of military muscle, followed by a return to diplomacy and demands for further concessions.

Print Sponsor

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific