South Korea made its first concrete move on Thursday to enforce sanctions over North Korea's nuclear test, saying it will ban officials from its northern neighbour who fall under a UN travel restriction.
Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok said Seoul would also control transactions and remittances relating to inter-Korean trade and investment with the North Korean officials, Yonhap news agency reported.
South Korea made the decision despite a warning from the North on Wednesday that any sanctions imposed by Seoul would be seen as a "declaration of confrontation" and could cause a breakdown in inter-Korean relations.
Seoul had been hesitant to take strong measures to support the sanctions, mindful of Pyongyang's massive armed forces poised at the border, its family and cultural ties with the North and its wish to expand economic relations with its neighbour.
But its decision is certain to be welcomed in Washington, where US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday urged South Korea to show "a strong commitment" to the international sanctions endorsed by the UN after the North's October 9 nuclear blast.
"We understand that this is a complicated set of issues for South Korea," Rice said. "North Korea's behavior poses a regional challenge and it must be addressed in a regional context.
South Korea must be part of the solution, as should Japan and China and Russia."
Meanwhile today a leading international Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group warned of a humanitarian crisis, saying that growing numbers of North Koreans could try to flee their homeland.