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Reclusive North Korea opens door to US tourists

Reclusive North Korea will allow American tourists across its border next month for the first time in three years.

india Updated: Sep 27, 2005 12:36 IST
Reuters
Reuters
PTI

Reclusive North Korea will allow American tourists across its border next month for the first time in three years, in time to take in the spectacle of the country's biggest-ever mass games, involving some 100,000 people.

The tours got the green light after last week's surprise end to the latest round of six-party talks in Beijing, when North Korea and the United States signed a landmark deal in which Pyongyang agreed to give up its nuclear weapons programmes in exchange for aid and security guarantees.

Pyongyang's subsequent demands that Washington provide civilian nuclear reactors before it dismantles its atomic weapons have cast doubt over the deal.

But the rare opening to U.S. travellers was a clear sign of an easing of tensions between the two sides, the British organiser of the tours said.

"With the six-party talks going better than a lot of people forecast, there is a general good feeling at the moment, a more friendly feeling," Nick Bonner, founder of Beijing-based Koryo Tours, told Reuters by telephone.

For 13 years, Koryo has been taking tourists to the isolated state, once branded by U.S. President George W. Bush as part of an "axis of evil". It now has official approval to lead three groups of Americans to North Korea next month, and Bonner said he expected about 100 people to sign up.

While North Korea has been trying to attract more tourists from South Korea, Russia, China and Europe, only twice previously, in 1995 and 2002, has it admitted Americans, both times also coinciding with the holding of the Arirang Mass Games.

The games are the world's biggest choreographed extravaganza, part circus act, part rhythmic gymnastics floor, with plenty of reverence for "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il.

At the games and other stops on the tour, which include the USS Pueblo, an American Navy patrol boat captured in 1968 and now displayed in the North Korean capital, each tourist would be accompanied by two guides, standard for foreign visitors.

North Korean state-run media regularly vilify the United States -- on Wednesday the official communist party newspaper reported U.S. plans for a nuclear strike -- but Bonner said the Americans could expect a warm welcome from their hosts.

Reopening to U.S. tourists and last week's nuclear accord could be signs the impoverished country was ready to come out of its shell.

"(In North Korea) there is a feeling of opening and particularly with the six-party talks, the feeling that engagement is a way ahead," Bonner said. .

First Published: Sep 27, 2005 12:36 IST