N Korea restores military hotline

Other News Materials 21 March 2009 11:22 (UTC +04:00)

North Korea has restored a cross-border military hotline with South Korea it severed earlier this month.

The hotline is used to co-ordinate the movement of goods and people across the border, and in its absence officials resorted to exchanging notes by hand.

Pyongyang cut the hotline in protest at a US-South Korean military exercise, reported BBC.

Meanwhile, the North confirmed that two female US journalists had been arrested on the China-North Korea border and the case was being investigated.

The official Central News Agency said the journalists were detained on Tuesday "while illegally intruding into the territory of the DPRK [North Korea]".

"A competent organ is now investigating the case," it added.

The US had earlier expressed "concern" over the fate of the two women.

Separately, the North has also indicated it will reopen a border crossing which links the South with a joint Korean industrial zone, just inside the North.

Earlier, China's president urged the North to return to the negotiating table over its nuclear programme.

The six-party talks, which also include South Korea, the US, Japan, and Russia, aim to offer aid to Pyongyang in return for the North ending its controversial nuclear activities.

But negotiations have been deadlocked for months because of a dispute with the US over how to verify the North's full range of past nuclear activities.

The situation has been further enflamed by the North's announcement that it plans to test-fire a rocket early next month.

The hotline, now restored, is intended as a means of direct communication at a time of high tension.

It is also used to co-ordinate the passage of people and goods through the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone.

The border between the two Koreas has been intermittently closed since the communication lines were cut on 9 March - when the US-South Korea drill began - stranding South Korea workers at a shared industrial estate and badly affecting businesses there.

It was cut because the North objected to annual military exercises by the South and the US, which it said it suspected were a prelude to an invasion.

On Saturday, South Korean Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-jo said that Pyongyang had also informed Seoul it would reopen cross-border traffic to and from an industrial complex in the North Korean border town of Kaesong.

The joint Korean venture is a key source of hard currency for the communist state.

The North's move comes just hours after Beijing urged North Korea to restart talks on its nuclear programme.

"We hope that relevant parties can consider the whole situation, appropriately resolve their differences and promote the progress of the six-party talks," Xinhua news agency quoted President Hu Jintao as saying.

China has voiced its concern over the growing tensions on the Korean peninsula over North Korea's planned rocket launch.

The North insists it is preparing to send up a communications satellite - and that any attempt to shoot it down would result in war.

The US, Japan and South Korea have all expressed concerns that the North is actually planning to test-fire a long-range missile.

North Korea is banned from firing either device under a UN Security Council resolution prohibiting it from ballistic activity.

Tensions have been high between North and South Korea since the South's conservative President Lee Myung-Bak scrapped his predecessors' policy of offering virtually unconditional aid to Pyongyang.

North and South Korea technically remain in a state of war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a ceasefire, not a peace treaty.