China reopens North Korea border to tourists

/ Source: The Associated Press

China has reopened its land border to tourists traveling to North Korea after a three-year break, with a group of 71 tourists visiting the isolated country, state media reported Thursday.

The Chinese tourists left the city of Dandong in northeastern Liaoning province this week for a one-day tour of Sinuiju, on the other side of the Yalu river that marks the frontier, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

It was the first tour group to cross the border since February 2006, when crossings were suspended following rampant gambling by Chinese tourists, the report said.

The report did not say where the tourists had been gambling or what had changed to allow the border to reopen.

The frontier is a sensitive area and the point where most Koreans fleeing the regime pass through.

Two U.S. journalists reporting on refugees in the area were arrested March 17. Pyongyang has accused Laura Ling and Euna Lee of committing "hostile acts" and will try them on criminal charges. Ling and Lee work for San Francisco-based Current TV, a media venture founded by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

The group that crossed this week were mostly locals from Dandong who paid 690 yuan (about $100) to visit six scenic sites in Sinuiju, including a museum on North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, Xinhua said.

Ji Chengsong, manager of the travel agency that organized the trip, was quoted as saying that the company hoped to offer tours four days a week.