12/29/2005, 00.00
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Phone lines link the two Koreas after 60 years

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young

The connection was set up in collaboration between the two states and it will link South Korea to the Kaesong industrial complex.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – South and North Korea yesterday reopened private telephone services. The cross-border phone link-up was cut in 1945, just after the nation's liberation from Japan.

KT, South Korea's top fixed-line telecom operator, will take charge of operating the 300 lines linking the South to the Kaesong Industrial Complex, situated in the demilitarized zone of North Korea, 4km from the border.

About 400 politicians and businessmen of the two states took part in the inauguration ceremony in Kaesong. The southern delegation included Information and Communications Minister, Chin Dae-je, and KT president, Nam Joong-soo. In a congratulatory message, Chin said that "following telephone and facsimile links, we need to talk with the North about expanding cooperation in such areas as postal service and high-speed Internet." He added that officials of the two countries will frequently meet toward this end. Nam said KT was committed to expanding its presence in Kaesong: "We aim to build a telecom centre of 3,000 pyong (9,900 square meters) to contribute in the development of inter-Korean collaboration in communications."  The envisioned centre is expected to be completed late next year and will house 10,000 telephone lines.

KT spokesman Hwang Dae-woon said the company also hoped to launch mobile telephony services in Kaesong with the help of its wireless affiliate company KTF.

In 1972, nearly 30 years after the separation in 1945, the governments of the two Koreas had re-established a limited number of direct telephone lines managed by the governments. It did not prove easy for private companies to find an opening.   

The two countries had reached a basic agreement to connect Seoul and the Kaesong industrial park in 2002 but they have disagreed about the price of the services. After many negotiations, Pyongyang finally gave its agreement in March this year. The KT then had to wait for the green light from Washington which arrived last month. The USA gave the go-ahead for limited exportation of technology to North Korea.

The Kaesong industrial complex is held to be one of the most successful examples of cooperation between the Koreas after decades of tension.

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