A South Korean opposition party delegation took a message from the government to North Korea on Saturday to try to improve deteriorating relations after the North threatened to halt border crossings on the divided peninsula. The Democratic Labor Party group traveled to North Korea via China, Jun Kwon-hee, a party leadership aide, told The Associated Press.
Vice Unification Minister Hong Yang-ho met party leader Kang Ki-kap on Thursday and asked him to tell North Korea that Seoul has not turned away from deals reached at two bilateral summits and that it is ready to discuss how to implement them, Jun said. Relations between the two Koreas _ which technically remain at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty _ have deteriorated since South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in February.
North Korea has accused South Korea's new conservative government of ignoring accords reached at the 2000 and 2007 summits under which the North was promised a shipbuilding factory, plus railway and road improvements. The communist country has recently ramped up rhetoric against the South.
The Democratic Labor Party, a small, left-leaning opposition party that holds five seats in South Korea's National Assembly, is visiting North Korea at the invitation of a minor party allied with its leader, Kim Jong Il.
Such exchanges are among the few avenues for direct communication between the Koreas, since the North refuses to deal with Lee's government.
On Wednesday, the North's military said it would "restrict and cut off" cross-border routes from Dec. 1. The ban could force the closure of dozens of South Korean factories operating at a joint industrial park in the North's border city of Kaesong _ a symbolic rejection of South Korean efforts since 2000 to foster reconciliation through commerce.
South Korea's government said it has urged North Korea not to stop development of the lucrative industrial zone. The Kaesong complex, where South Korean factories employ some 35,000 North Koreans, has been a key source of currency for the impoverished North.
In the message from Seoul to North Korea, Hong also promised the government would "make strong efforts to stop" activists from sending leaflets critical of Kim Jong Il across the border attached to balloons, Jun said.
North Korea _ which is very sensitive to outside criticism of its leader _ has accused South Korea of violating a 2004 pact prohibiting cross-border propaganda and has warned of military confrontation if the leaflets keep arriving.
South Korea's government has said there are no legal grounds for prosecuting those who send the leaflets, citing freedom of expression.
Also on Saturday, North Korea renewed its call for an end to joint military drills between South Korea and key ally the United States, calling them a rehearsal for an attack.
Seoul "had better stop ... the provocative war exercises against the (North) which deteriorate the inter-Korean relations and chill the atmosphere of dialogue and peace," the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
Seoul and Washington recently held a large-scale military drill in South Korea.