North Korea opens symbolic mountain to SKoreans

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SEOUL, Nov 4 (Reuters) North Korea, which carefully controls access by foreigners, will allow South Koreans to visit a sacred mountain by a direct air link, state media reported, a rare concession by the North to its capitalist neighbour.

The decision comes a month after only the second summit between leaders of the two Koreas, divided by a fortified border since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

The North's state-run news agency KCNA said South Korea's Hyundai Group had been granted the right to conduct package tours to Mt Paektu from May 2008 using direct flights from Seoul.

A top Hyundai official met North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang on Saturday, KCNA said.

At present, South Koreans can only visit the Chinese side of the 2,744 metre (9,000 feet) mountain, which Koreans consider sacred because they believe it is the place of their ancestral origin. The mountain is on the northern tip of the Korean peninsula.

Hyundai, the largest investor in the North, operates tours to another scenic mountain, Mount Kumgang, on the east coast, earning the impoverished country much-needed hard currency.

North Korea has agreed to disable its nuclear weapons programmes in return for energy aid and better international relations.

A team of US technicians will on Monday start disabling a nuclear complex that makes weapons-grade plutonium, a senior US envoy said yesterday.

REUTERS SYU HS0928

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