SEOUL, Dec. 29 (Yonhap) — The number of South Koreans who visited North Korea almost quadrupled this year from a year earlier as Seoul has encouraged more civic groups to spur exchanges with the North, a government report showed Tuesday.
The number of South Koreans visiting the North reached 2,035 this year, compared with 552 a year earlier or up 269 percent from the previous year, according to a report by the Unification Ministry.
The tally did not include those who moved in and out of a joint industrial park in the North’s border city of Kaesong.
The government said in May that it will encourage more civic groups to increase their exchanges with North Korea to mark the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule.
The two Koreas’ August deal to ease military tension also has given a boost to efforts to promote civilian inter-Korean exchanges.
Seoul has imposed punitive sanctions on North Korea banning massive state aid and trade since May 2010 to punish the North for sinking a South Korean warship. But it has encouraged civilians to increase humanitarian assistance to the North.
As part of the August deal, the two Koreas held reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War at Mount Kumgang in the North in late October.
In October alone, a total of 880 South Koreans visited North Korea, compared with 816 in January 2010, according to the report. The October tally was the largest monthly reading since 2009, it added.
Other major civilian exchange events included a joint project to excavate the site of Manwoldae, a Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) palace in Kaesong, and football games held between the two Koreas’ labor groups in October.