- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2000

BEIJING North Korea is limiting travel to already tightly controlled communist China to bolster security for a mid-June summit with South Korea, aid workers, diplomats and North Korean officials said yesterday.

Foreign-aid groups, tourists and even the Australian ambassador have in recent days been refused permission to visit North Korea in June, the aid workers and diplomats said. All spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals from the sensitive North Korean government.

While North Koreans have given various explanations, one aid worker said Pyongyang was banning visitors for the month "to ensure security for the summit."

When asked if it was possible to visit North Korea next month, a consular officer at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing said: "It's impossible." He refused to give his name or an explanation.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung are scheduled to meet in Pyongyang June 12-14 for the sides' first summit since the Korean peninsula was divided 55 years ago. The communist north and capitalist south fought each other in the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended without a peace treaty.

Persisting tensions have eased slightly with the prospect of a summit, and North Korea has made changes: Years of famine and economic collapse have forced the North to seek outside help. Aid groups and foreign business executives have trickled in. Normally isolated Pyongyang has set off a flurry of diplomatic activity, courting ties with Western governments.

Australia's ambassador to Beijing, David Irvine, hoped to present his credentials to Pyongyang in June as the country's first ambassador to North Korea in 25 years. But North Korea has suggested putting off the formality until July, a diplomat said.

The Red Cross, which sends medicine and other aid to help North Koreans left vulnerable by five years of food shortages, has been told it may not send new representatives into North Korea in June, an aid official said.

An official for another international relief agency said the ban did not cover aid workers already based in Pyongyang. They may enter and leave the country, but their travel inside North Korea will be restricted to Pyongyang and Nampo, the port that handles most aid shipments.

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