SEOUL, Oct 26: South Korea will ban the entry of North Koreans who are part of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme in the first step by Seoul to punish the North for conducting a nuclear test, a minister said today.
Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok also said Seoul would take action against the North beyond a UN Security Council resolution that mandated trade and financial sanctions.
The comments come a day after the North threatened war if Seoul joined what it called a ''criminal act'' led by Washington to stifle the North, referring to the resolution.
''The government will ban the passage and stay (in the South) of persons and their family designated by (UN Security Council) sanctions committee,'' Lee told a parliamentary committee.
Travel between South and North Korea is already tightly regulated despite a sharp increase in the number of South Koreans who visit the North on business and on tours.
But move could have a significant impact on Seoul's future ties with the North because it might affect key North Korean officials who take part in bilateral talks, said Yoo Ho-yeol, an expert on the North at Korea University.
Lee said Seoul would also invoke a maritime agreement with the North to search North Korean ships that make port calls in the South.
He did not comment on whether Seoul would suspend commercial projects in the North in an industrial zone where South Korean firms operate and a resort open to foreign tourists.
Seoul has been cautious to take steps against the North out of concern that it could escalate tension on the Korean peninsula and hurt bilateral ties that it has worked hard to build in the past six years.
But Seoul has said it would not be business as usual after the October 9 nuclear test, which defied international warnings and led to the Security Council resolution banning trade of goods and transfer of funds that aid the North's weapons programmes.
Lee said Seoul would continue to pursue dialogue with the North and try to bring it back to stalled six-country talks on endings its nuclear weapons programme.
Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung urged the United States to make ''a bold decision'' and accept Pyongyang's demand for direct talks.
Kim, who won the Nobel Peace prize for orchestrating an unprecedented summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000 that led to the two Koreas' reconciliation, said dialogue with ''evil'' is sometimes necessary.
''I hope President Bush makes the right decision now,'' Kim said in a column in the International Herald Tribune.
North Korea said yesterday any action by Seoul under the UN resolution would ''drive the inter-Korean relations to a catastrophe'' and would be ''a grave provocative act of leading the situation on the Korean peninsula to a war crisis.'' Ties between the two Koreas chilled rapidly in July when Seoul suspended food and industrial aid after Pyongyang tested ballistic missiles.