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N.K. bans civilian exchanges with S. Korea amid tensions

North Korea banned its Buddhist officials from meeting with their South Korean counterparts earlier this week in its border city of Gaeseong, officials said Thursday, in a sign of persistent tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean Buddhist monks traveled to Kaesong on Tuesday for previously arranged talks with their North Korean counterparts on a joint project to return artifacts seized by Japan during its 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula.

The two sides had also planned to discuss how to display in Pyongyang some of about 1,200 ancient Korean royal books that Japan returned to South Korea in December. Some of the books recorded and illustrated royal protocols used during the Joseon Dynasty, which ruled the Korean Peninsula from 1392 to 1910.

But North Korean Buddhist officials did not show up at the meeting, according to a South Korean government official.

He said a North Korean official explained to the South Korean delegation that the North decided to cut off all dialogue with South Korea in protest of South Korea’s live-fire drills near their disputed western sea border on Monday.

The South Korean Buddhist monks who traveled to the North were not immediately available for comment.

The North had threatened military action against Seoul’s live-fire drills, although no clash occurred. Tensions persist on the divided Korean Peninsula following two deadly attacks by the North against the South in 2010.

A South Korean civic group also dropped its previously planned trip to Kaesong on Tuesday after being told by North Korea that a meeting could not be held due to tensions.

North Korea has also rejected South Korea’s recent proposal to hold Red Cross talks to help arrange reunions of family members separated for nearly six decades. 

(Yonhap News)