- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) - North Korea restored the only telephone link with South Korea and reopened a key border crossing for South Korean workers Saturday, officials said.

The move came a day after South Korea and the United States ended their annual military exercises across South Korea. The North Korean military cut the communications hot line on March 9 to protest the drills.

Washington and Seoul call the war games routine defense drills; Pyongyang accused the two nations’ militaries of preparing to attack the North.

“Officials of the two Koreas conducted a trial phone conversation,” after reconnecting the hot line Saturday morning, South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood called the re-establishment of the hot line “a good thing.”

The hot line is the only telephone link between the two Koreas and is vital for coordinating the passage of people and goods across their border _ one of the most heavily fortified in the world. The two countries technically remain at war because their three-year conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953.

After a decade of warming ties, relations have deteriorated since President Lee Myung-bak ended the flow of unconditional aid to Pyongyang a year ago. North Korea has cut several hot lines since he took office, and in December banned nearly all traffic through its border crossing.

The North informed South Korea on Saturday morning that it reopened cross-border traffic to and from a lucrative industrial park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, Lee said.

Since the war games began March 9, North Korean officials had refused three times to let South Korean workers commute to and from jobs at the industrial park in Kaesong, leaving hundreds stranded in North Korea.

The repeated closures have called into question the future of the factory, a joint economic venture once hailed as a promising example of inter-Korean cooperation and a key source of hard currency for the impoverished North.

The move came amid tension on the Korean peninsula over the North’s announced plans to fire a satellite in early April _ a move several regional powers have said is merely cover for a test of missile technology. On Friday, North Korea said it would convene its rubber-stamp parliament on April 9, just after the planned launch.

Two American journalists, meanwhile, were reportedly detained by North Korean authorities for ignoring warnings to stop shooting footage of the reclusive country. Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for former Vice President Al Gore’s online media outlet Current TV, were seized Tuesday along the Chinese-North Korean border, according to news reports and an activist who worked with them.

The journalists were seeking to interview North Koreans who had escaped and were hiding in China, according to the Rev. Chun Ki-won of the Seoul-based Durihana Mission, a Christian group that aids defectors.

Wood indicated that the U.S. was in talks with North Korea to resolve the issue.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton “is engaged on this matter right now,” Wood told reporters. “There is a lot of diplomacy going on. There have been a number of contacts made.” He declined to elaborate.

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