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S. Korea allows Buddhist group to visit N. Korea for looted artifacts

Yonhap News, Nov 18, 2011

Seoul, South Korea -- South Korea said Friday it has allowed a seven-member Buddhist delegation to travel to North Korea next week for discussions on a joint project to return artifacts seized by Japan from the Korean Peninsula during the 1910-45 colonial occupation.

The approval is the latest apparent sign of lessening tensions on the divided peninsula. Buddhist officials from the two Koreas launched the joint project in 2000, but South Korea suspended it last year, blaming North Korea for sinking one of its warships, a charge denied by the North.

Representatives from the South's Lay Buddhist Association of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism will make the trip from Tuesday to the North's border city of Kaesong and meet their North Korean counterparts to discuss the project, officials at Seoul's unification ministry said.

"The approval was made because the project is a joint effort by the South and North to return our cultural properties seized during the Japanese colonial rule," a ministry official said on the condition of anonymity.

The ministry is in charge of South Korea's policies on North Korea. Inter-Korean relations remain tense following the North's two military attacks on the South last year, but Seoul has signaled a "flexible" approach to Pyongyang in recent months by expanding civilian contacts between the two sides.

A group of South Korean historians are now working on a joint survey in progress with North Koreans in Kaesong for another project to excavate an ancient Korean royal palace in its territory.

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