Tourists cross Korean border

Five Kiwi motorcyclists drove their bikes across the heavily guarded border between North and South Korea on Thursday.

The crossing was part of a 5,500-mile journey that began in the Russian city of Magadan and which aims to traverse the mountain “spine” of the Korean peninsula, from Mount Paektu in the North to Mount Halla in the South.

Permission is rarely granted by either Korean state – let alone both of them – for foreigners to pass through the demilitarised zone (DMZ) that has been in place since the Korean War.

The exception made for the biking group seemed largely based on good timing, as it coincided with an easing of North-South tensions and efforts by both sides to resume elements of cross-border cooperation.

The tourists’ stated intention is to celebrate the “unifying” nature of the mountain range.

Jo Morgan, 60, the only female member of the group, said locals had welcomed them wherever they went in the two weeks they had spent riding through the North.

“They were great, they waved out,” she told reporters after crossing the border into South Korea, adding that: “Many people sent their love to their families in the South. They feel like one people.”

Her husband Gareth Morgan, said the trip had been “wonderful” so far.

“I won’t really feel it until I am on top of Mount Halla, then I will have the sense of achievement that we did what we came to do,” he said.

The border crossing would have been inconceivable just a few months ago, when both Koreas were on a virtual war-footing and threats of nuclear strikes were being thrown around.

But a subsequent easing of tensions saw Pyongyang approve the trip, followed by the authorities in Seoul.

In a brief despatch on Wednesday, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) had reported the group’s visit to Mangyongdae – the birthplace of North Korea’s founder leader Kim Il-Sung.

“Being briefed on the revolutionary life of Kim Il Sung and his family members… the members of the group looked round historic relics preserved at the old home with good care,” KCNA reported.

Foreigners wishing to travel between the two countries usually have no choice but to fly via Beijing.

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