SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea said Friday that it would allow a 37-member Buddhist delegation to visit North Korea, a sign that it might be ready to ease restrictions on civilian contacts with the North.
In May 2010, the South Korean government banned all civilian visits to North Korea, except for missions to provide humanitarian aid for children and victims of natural disasters. The restriction was imposed after the South accused North Korea of torpedoing a South Korean warship in March of that year. North Korea denied responsibility for the sinking, which killed 46 sailors.
The Buddhist trip will be the first of its kind since the ban last year. But the Unification Ministry, a government agency in charge of the South’s policies on North Korea, did not clarify whether it would give permission to other civic groups that want to visit the North to promote inter-Korean exchanges.
On Tuesday, President Lee Myung-bak named Yu Woo-ik, a former ambassador to China, as the South’s new unification minister. Mr. Yu said he might consider “flexibility” in dealing with North Korea.
In recent weeks, Seoul and Washington have engaged North Korea in preliminary talks to explore the possibility of restarting six-nation talks aimed at ending the North’s nuclear weapons program.
The Buddhist delegation will arrive in Pyongyang, the North’s capital, on Saturday, traveling from Beijing. During their five-day trip, the delegates will visit temples around the capital and hold services to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of the creation of a set of wooden scriptures held sacred by Buddhists in both Koreas.