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Seoul rejects Buddhist group's request for visit to N. Korea

Yonhap News, Feb 19, 2010

SEOUL, South Korea -- The government has turned down a request by South Korea's largest Buddhist order to allow thousands of adherents to visit North Korea as part of religious exchanges between the divided countries, officials said Friday.

The Jogye order earlier this month announced a plan for 4,000 members to travel to a temple located in the North's Mount Kumgang region in March. Jogye officials said counterparts in the North accepted a proposal for talks during the visit.

The announcement came after the head of the order visited the communist nation as part of religious exchanges.

Seoul's Unification Ministry, in charge of inter-Korean affairs, said, however, that the timing of such a visit was not right, given recent talks between the two Koreas that ended without agreement on resuming cross-border tours.

"With the current state of inter-Korean relations uncertain, such a large scale visit to Kumgang Mountain to contact working-level (North Korean) counterparts does not seem relevant," an official at the Unification Ministry said.
"Therefore, we requested the Jogye order to refrain (from the visit)."

The trip was expected to mark the largest group of South Korean civilians to travel to the North Korean mountain since Seoul halted tours there after one of its nationals was shot dead by a North Korean soldier near the resort in 2008.

The North Korean temple reopened in 2007 after five years of renovations with the help of the Jogye order, but soon became off-limits to South Korean tourists because of the shooting incident at the mountain.

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