05/13/2006, 00.00
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Trains to link north and south after 56 years

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young

Official sources said the first "trials" will take place on 25 May. As yet, there is no specific date for the inauguration of the cross border lines.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – Trials to resume train links between North and South Korea will start on 25 May, for the first time since war on the peninsula 56 years ago, the South Korean Reunification Minister said today. He said they will be the last trials before the official inauguration. However, representatives of the two parties have yet to fix a date for the historic event.

The security of train and road links between the two Koreas will be at the heart of the fourth round of talks between military representatives of Seoul and Pyongynang, announced yesterday by the South Korean Defence Minister. The meetings, which will be held from 16 to 18 May in Panmunjom – the South Korean village where the 1953 truce was signed – aim to diminish new incidents in the maritime zone along the western coast and to reduce tension along the border.

The issue of cross-border links assumes particular importance in the lead-up to a trip to the north, scheduled for next month, by the former South Korean president Kim Dae Jung. Kim Dae Jung has expressed hopes of being able to travel on board the inter-Korean train line.

According to a provisional agreement reached in 2003, both Koreas guarantee security of road traffic through the demilitarized zone (DMZ), but the pact did not cover travel by rail.

The 27.3km Tonghae line across the frontier on the eastern side of the country, and the 25.5km Kongui line will link two border cities: Munsan in the south and Kaesong in the north.

The Panmunjom talks will also discuss the definition of borders in contested waters of the western sea. According to Seoul, the Northern Limit Line represents a de facto border but Pyongyang does not accept this, claiming it is an imposition of the United Nations, spearheaded by the USA, established in a unilateral manner at the end of the Korean war (1950-1953).

A series of naval incidents in these fishing rich waters, have caused several deaths on both sides over the years.

The delegation from the south to the Panmunjom talks will be led by Major General Han Min-gu, while that of the north will have Major General Kim Yong-chul at the helm.

At the moment, it seems as if a new South Korean policy is being implemented, intent on distancing itself from the decided policy of the United States to make Pyongyang return to the negotiating table of the six-party talks about nuclear disarmament.

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