South Koreans to North at five-year high

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South Koreans to North at five-year high

Despite continued tensions on the peninsula, more South Koreans visited North Korea this year than in the five years since a new package of sanctions were implemented in 2010.

The Ministry of Unification said on Friday that between January and November of this year, 1,778 people visited North Korea, which is more than three times the number of people in 2014, and the highest number since 2010.

This was attributed, in large part, to humanitarian exchanges, which were particularly bolstered in August by a landmark inter-Korean agreement that de-escalated military tensions following a land mine explosion on the border earlier that month that maimed two South Korean soldiers.

The Aug. 25 deal called for reunions to be held for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War and for improving inter-Korean ties through increased exchanges.

According to the Unification Ministry, 1,481 people took part in 51 civilian or cultural trips to North Korea this year. There were also 18 trips for humanitarian aid that involved 220 people. Eleven trips were business-related and brought 77 people to the North this year.

The effect of the inter-Korean deal was also evident in the numbers, as civilian exchanges increased in the fall. Between January and September, 418 people visited North Korea, or an average of 46 people per month. But following the Aug. 25 deal, 880 people in October and 450 people in November visited North Korea, according to ministry data.

The sanctions, also referred to as the May 24 measures, refers to the economic restrictions implemented by the Lee Myung-bak administration in 2010 in retaliation for Pyongyang’s sinking of the ROK Cheonan warship earlier that year on March 26, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.

The sanctions ban most government-level assistance and cross-border business, halting inter-Korean economic and cultural exchanges.

According to the results, 6,211 people visited North Korea in 2010, which dropped to 1,612 the next year.

In 2012, only 240 people traveled to the North, and even fewer the following year, at 212. There was a slight boost in 2014, when 552 people visited North Korea.

These numbers exclude the people involved in exchanges linked with the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex and the family reunions. The 20th round of reunions for war-torn families took place in October at the Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea.

However, vice minister-level talks between the two Koreas that took place from Dec. 11 to 12 ended inconclusively, without any agreements or consensus on a date for follow-up talks, which has led to low expectations for warmer ties in the immediate future.

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