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Koreas restore regular cross-border traffic

South Korea Koreas Tension

Koreas restore regular cross-border traffic

SEOUL, South Korea – North and South Korea restored regular traffic across their heavily fortified border for their jointly run industrial park Tuesday in the latest sign of improved relations between the two, officials in Seoul said.

The North’s state radio station, meanwhile, quoted leader Kim Jong Il as saying that the U.S. should abandon its “hostile policy” toward the North and sign a peace treaty with the communist nation to reduce tension on the peninsula. His comments echoed statements he has made in the past. Pyongyang Radio didn’t say when Kim made the remarks.

The U.S. fought with South Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in an armistice, leaving the North and South still technically at war. About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea as deterrence against the North. U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Monday he had no comment on the matter.

The resumption of regular traffic between the neighbors for their joint industrial park in the North was the latest indication of efforts by Pyongyang to reach out to Seoul and Washington, after months of provocations that included nuclear and missile tests.

The North had severely restricted traffic across the border since December. The clampdown affected the flow of goods and personnel to and from the factory park in Kaesong.

The border will open 23 times a day to traffic to and from Kaesong, up from the previous six times, Seoul’s Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo told reporters Tuesday. The number of people and vehicles allowed to cross the border at one time will no longer be restricted, she said.

“I don’t have any sense of uneasiness,” Han Maeng-woo, a 53-year-old South Korean worker, said as he left for the industrial complex. He said his company will be able to resume investment that was suspended during the inter-Korean tensions.

Kaesong is home to some 110 South Korean-run factories that employ about 40,000 North Korean workers. The project is the most prominent symbol of the inter-Korean cooperation that prospered under two liberal South Korean presidents following the Koreas’ first-ever summit in 2000.

The reconciliation process and most joint projects came to a halt after conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office early last year. North Korea protested Lee’s tough policies, such as linking aid to the impoverished neighbor to nuclear disarmament.

But in August, Pyongyang freed two American journalists and a South Korean worker held for more than four months of detention, agreed to resume joint projects and set a date for the reunion of families separated during the Korean War.

Pyongyang also sent an official delegation to Seoul to mourn the death of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during the 2000 Korean summit.

The two sides agreed Friday to hold a new round of family reunions in late September. On Saturday, North Korea released four South Korean fishermen seized in late July after their boat strayed into northern waters.

Kelly said the U.S. is “encouraged by more dialogue between North and South.”

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