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4,000 Buddhists to Visit NK in March

By Lee Hyo-won, The Korea Times, Feb 5, 2010

Seoul, South Korea -- Amid discussions over the possible resumption of cross-border trips to North Korea's Mt. Geumgang, thousands of South Korean Buddhists are expected to visit a temple located in the scenic park next month, an organizer of the planned trip said.

Some 4,000 adherents of the Jogye Order, the largest Buddhist sect in South Korea, will visit Singye Temple as part of a pilgrimage, Ven. Ja Seung, head of the order, said in a press meeting Wednesday after returning from Pyongyang. During the four-day trip to the Stalinist state he met with his monastic counterparts to finalize plans for the trip.

The announcement came as the two Koreas are engaged in discussions to arrange a meeting to discuss resuming the tour project.

"The upcoming visit, however, is part of a religious pilgrimage and should not be interpreted as a sign of the resumption of the regular Mt. Geumgang tours," said Ven. Hyegyeong, chief of the Jogye Order's social affairs office.

The visit, to be carried out over three one-day trips in March, will mark the largest dispatch of South Korean civilians to the Northern resort in recent years. In 2008 Seoul halted tours after one of its citizens was shot dead by a North Korean soldier near the resort.

"The visit is aimed at promoting religious exchanges between the Koreas, and will be carried out as planned unless special circumstances arise. The North is welcoming the visit," said Ven. Ja Seung.

Singye Temple was damaged during the Korean War (1950-53) and underwent renovation with the help of the Jogye Order. It reopened in 2007 after five years of repair, but became off-limits to South Korean tourists due to a shooting incident at the mountain.

Last year, some 50 Buddhist leaders from the two Koreas took part in a ceremony commemorating the 2nd anniversary of the temple's reconstruction.

Meanwhile, during the recent Pyongyang meeting the religious authorities discussed pursuing collaborative projects: preserving Buddhist relics, celebrating the millennial anniversary of the Tripitaka Koreana in 2011 and revamping the international activities.

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