Two Koreas Say Train Service May Resume ‘By End Of Year’

SEOUL — North and South Korea have not had regular train service across their heavily armed border in more than half a century — but that may be about to change within weeks. Prime Ministers from the two Koreas say they are finalizing the details to reestablish at least one railway route before the end of the year.

Details of the potential North-South Korean rail route emerged during the second of three planned days of talks in Seoul between South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and his North Korean counterpart Kim Yong Il.

South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Nam-shik told reporters the two Koreas want to get moving on the project right away.

He says they agreed on the need for establishing a cross-border train route by the end of the year.

Kim says details need to be worked out, but the route under discussion would involve freight trains linking the South Korean city of Munsan with the North Korean city of Bongdong. He says the freight transit would spur economic activity at the South Korean-built Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea.

There has been no regular train service across the North-South Korean border since the North invaded the South in 1950. The two sides remain technically at war, with only a 1953 armistice having halted fighting.

But North-South ties have warmed since a 2000 summit opened an era of South Korean engagement with Pyongyang. The South has poured billions of dollars in aid and investment into the North, leading to a mainly symbolic rail test this May and a follow-up North-South summit last month.

This week’s prime-minister-level talks are considered a first attempt at implementing agreements from the October summit between South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. The two men vowed to push for a railway deal, as well as to establish a joint maritime economic zone in disputed waters west of the Korean peninsula.

Analysts say the total package of economic joint projects being discussed this week will eventually cost upward of $10 billion. South Korean authorities say the investment is sound, both in terms of stability on the peninsula, and in terms of lessening the costs of an eventual reunification.

The prime minister meetings are set to conclude Friday.

— Kurt Achin, Voice of America

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