South Korean scholars have been given permission to visit North Korea this week to possibly resume the joint excavation of an ancient royal palace site in the communist state, officials said Monday.
Seoul's Ministry of Unification said it gave permission to five people belonging to the Association of Inter-Korean Historians to visit the North Korean border town of Kaesong on Tuesday so they can check the ruins of Manwoldae, a Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) palace.
South Korean scholars, during the visit, will discuss resuming the joint excavation project with North Korean officials, according to the officials.
Kaesong served as the capital for most of the dynasty and is now home to an industrial complex run by both Koreas.
"The government approved their visit plan since it has continued to allow nonpolitical social and cultural exchanges (with North Korea) and considering the value of joint programs for preserving their common cultural heritage items," unification ministry spokesman Kim Eyi-do said during a press briefing.
Manwoldae is part of a group of "historic monuments and sites in Kaesong" that was inducted into the UNESCO world heritage list in 2013. The Manwoldae palace was constructed in 919 but was completely destroyed during the Red Turbans invasions of Korea during the 14th century.
The two Koreas launched the excavation project in 2007, but South Korea halted it in 2010 as part of its sanctions against Pyongyang for the sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on the North.
The project was temporarily resumed in November 2011 but has been suspended since the death of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il the following month.
It was the latest in a series of civilian contacts between the two Koreas approved by the South Korean government despite heightened cross-border tensions.
Earlier this month, the authority approved plans by South Korean civic activists and scholars to visit Kaesong for discussions on a forest cooperation project and a decade-long project to publish a joint Korean-language dictionary. (Yonhap)