North Korea says it will admit delegations from South

A South Korean soldier at an observation post in Panmunjom looks at North Korea on Thursday.

Story highlights

  • Pyongyang says it will guarantee the safety of South Koreans traveling to the North
  • Seoul has said it will allow a limited number of private groups to send delegations to the North
  • South Korea has broken somewhat from its hardline stance since Kim Jong Il's death
  • Seoul has expressed its sympathy to the North Korean people

North Korea will admit delegations from the South that wish to visit Pyongyang to express their condolences following the death of the leader Kim Jong Il, according to a statement posted on a government website run by the North.

"We will guarantee all convenience and safety of the South Koreans during their visit," said the statement on uriminzokkiri.com, dated Thursday, adding that the North would open to the delegations "all air routes and land routes through Kaesong," its industrial park, some 45 kilometers (27 miles) north of Seoul.

After Pyongyang announced on Monday the death of Kim, the dictator who had ruled the secretive dictatorship since 1994, Seoul has made a number of gestures as it tries to navigate the uncertainty created by the North's leadership transition. Pyongyang has named Kim's youngest son, Kim Jong Un, as the "Great Successor" to his father.

Seoul expressed its sympathy to the North Korean people through a statement on Tuesday. South Korea also said that while it would not send an official delegation to the North, it would allow a limited number of private groups to send delegations to the North if desired.

Pyongyang had already said Thursday that it would welcome a private delegation from Hyundai Asan, a South Korean company with heavy investments in the North, to pay respects to Kim.

The recent moves have been considered a break from the hardline approach to the North that President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea had taken since coming into office in 2008. They contrast with Seoul's reaction to the death of North Korea's founder, Kim Il Sung, in 1994 when the conservative South Korean government at the time did not offer its condolences.

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The announcement by the North that it would accept delegations came as South Korea's nuclear envoy held talks in Beijing with a senior Chinese official about how to move forward on the issue of North Korea's nuclear disarmament.

South Korea's nuclear point man, Lim Sung-nam, met with Wu Dawei, the Chinese special representative for Korean peninsula affairs, to assess the situation following Kim's death.