Tensions have been high on the Korean peninsula since the North shelled Yeonpyeong in November [AFP]

The two Koreas have restored an important cross-border communications channel and exchanged the first direct messages since the North's deadly shelling of a South Korean island in November.

The South's unification ministry spokesperson said the line was used for a ten-minute conversation on Wednesday. 

The North cut off the Red Cross communication line at the border village of Panmunjom last year. It is normally used for exchanging messages on humanitarian issues such as reunions of separated families.

Officials said that shortly after the line was restored, South Korea sent a message saying, "The communication channel should never be unilaterally cut off like this."

Tensions high

Relations between the two neighbours soured last year as the South blamed the North for the deadly sinking of one of its warships in May. Tensions then spiked after a North Korean artillery attack that killed four South Koreans on Yeonpyeong island.

The North made conciliatory gestures on Monday, offering to restore the Red Cross line and allowing South Korean officials back into a joint factory park in the North.

The North kicked them out of the complex after South Korea drastically slashed inter-Korean trade over the warship sinking that killed 46 sailors.

South Korea has no immediate plans to send back officials to the joint industrial complex at the North Korean border town of Kaesong unless the North promises to guarantee their safety and not to expel them in the future, Lee Jong-joo, the unification ministry spokeswoman, said.

North Korea has recently proposed resuming talks with South Korea, but Seoul has so far rebuffed the dialogue offer as a ploy for aid, saying the North must demonstrate responsibility for last year's two attacks and take steps toward nuclear disarmament before talks can resume.

Source: Agencies