PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Buddhist monks from North and South Korea prayed together in a rare joint religious service Monday in the North amid recent hopeful signs that animosity is easing between the rivals.
A group of South Korean monks traveled to North Korea on Saturday to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of an engraving of a major Buddhist scripture that's considered sacred by Buddhists in both Koreas.
Only a few South Korean civilians have been allowed to go to North Korea since May 2010, when Seoul banned nearly all civilian travel to the North except for those engaged in humanitarian aid to vulnerable children, pregnant women and disaster victims. The restriction came two months after North Korea allegedly torpedoed a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors.
On Monday, monks from the two Koreas pressed their hands together in prayer and bowed before a statue of Buddha at the ancient Pohyon Temple, northwest of Pyongyang, to visit paper copies of the revered Buddhist scripture Tripitaka Koreana, according to footage from Associated Press Television News in North Korea. The originals are in South Korea.
"I think (the service) is a good opportunity to realize national reconciliation, unity and unification," said Cha Kum Chol from the North Korean Buddhist Association.
Tension soared following the warship sinking and deepened after North Korea shelled a South Korean island in November, killing four people.
Recently, however, there has been an easing of tension on the peninsula, with South Korea and the United States holding talks with North Korea over the resumption of long-stalled negotiations aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.
Pyongyang also said last month that it had accepted Washington's proposal to discuss recovering remains of American troops killed during the 1950-53 Korean War. A small but symbolic shipment of emergency U.S. flood aid also arrived in the North on Saturday.
The Korean peninsula remains in a state of war because the Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The United States stations 28,500 troops in South Korea to deter potential aggression by North Korea.