In a major conciliatory gesture, South Korea said it will open a key waterway to North Korean commercial ships if they seek advance permission to pass through it.
The decision came hours after Seoul allowed three North Korean cargo vessels to sail out of the narrow channel between South Korea's mainland and its southernmost island of Cheju after they had violated those territorial waters for more than eight hours.
The channel has been open to all foreign ships except those from North Korea. It is a shortcut for vessels sailing to Japan or between the eastern and western areas of North Korea.
There was no immediate reaction from North Korea about the decision, which applies only to the channel off Cheju. Other waters will remain off-limits, officials said.