Monks from North, South Korea Hold Joint Service

Posted September 5th, 2011 at 9:30 am (UTC-5)
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Buddhist monks from North and South Korea held a rare joint religious service Monday outside the North Korean capital, where they commemorated the 1,000th anniversary of a collection of engraved Buddhist scripture considered sacred in both countries.

Thirty-seven South Korean monks participated in the service at a temple northeast of Pyongyang, where North Korea's KCNA news agency said worshippers also prayed for Korean reunification.

Few South Korean civilians have been allowed to travel to the North since May 2010, when Seoul banned nearly all civilian visits to protest a North Korean attack on a South Korean warship in waters near the demilitarized zone separating the two countries. Forty-six South Koreans died in the sinking. Tensions worsened months later after the North shelled a South Korean island, killing 4 people.

South Korea's Unification Ministry, which controls all cross-border contacts, says the monks' trip was permitted because of its “purely religious nature.”

The five-day religious visit began Saturday just days after South Korea replaced its hardline reunification minister as part of a cabinet reshuffle described by analysts in the South as part of a push to ease bilateral tensions.