- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2008

SEOUL

North Korea detailed plans Monday to radically curtail ties with South Korea, announcing the end of daily cross-border train service and tours of a historic city in response to what it called Seoul’s “confrontational” policy.

North Korea’s army also said it will expel some South Koreans from a joint industrial zone, but stopped short of closing the South Korean-run factories that are a key source of hard currency for the impoverished nation.

South Korea expressed “serious regret” and urged the North to reverse its decision.

Monday’s announcement laid out the North’s first concrete measures to carry out its threat to restrict cross-border traffic with the South starting Dec. 1, and marked a new escalation of tension between the two countries still technically at war.

Relations between the two Koreas have been tense since conservative, pro-American President Lee Myung-bak took office in Seoul in February pledging to be firm with the nuclear-armed North.

North Korea, angered by Mr. Lee’s hard-line stance after a decade of liberal South Korean leadership that viewed concessions as a path to reconciliation, broke off talks and threatened to cut any remaining ties with the South. It also branded Mr. Lee a “traitor,” “a pro-American sycophant” and “despicable human scum.”

“The South Korean puppets are still hell-bent on the treacherous and anti-reunification confrontational racket,” the North said in a message to the South, according to North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency. “The prospect of the inter-Korean relations will entirely depend on the attitude of the South Korean authorities,” the message said, adding that the North’s threats are never “empty talk.”

Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon urged North Korea to resolve the impasse through dialogue, and said Seoul would take “necessary measures” to ensure the safety of South Koreans remaining in the North.

“This is a very grave situation that moves South-North relations backward,” he said.

Separately, North Korea sent a series of messages to the South confirming the planned measures, according to the ministry, which is responsible for relations between the two nations.

One message, addressed to South Korean companies operating at the Kaesong business complex, said the North will “guarantee” their business activities, though the number of company staffers allowed to remain in the zone will be cut.

The North also notified Hyundai Asan Corp., the main tour operator in the historic city of Kaesong and other cross-border projects, saying the tours will be suspended.

A third inter-Korean project - tours to North Korea’s scenic Diamond Mountain - were suspended after the shooting death of a South Korean tourist in July. The KCNA report said some South Koreans still working at Diamond Mountain will be expelled next month.

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