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☞ Issue 70
글씨크기 크게 글씨크기 작게 기사 메일전송 기사 출력
Korean trains (and money) on the move

관리자 (2007/05/20 21:10)  

SEOUL - For the first time in more than half a century, trains crossed the heavily armed inter-Korean border on Thursday in a highly symbolic move toward renewed reconciliation and increased economic ties on the Korean Peninsula.

A five-car South Korean train crossed the the Demilitarized Zone around 12:15pm on the way to a station in western North Korea, and around the same time, a North Korean train crossed the DMZ while on its way to a station in eastern South Korea. Each train, carrying 100 South Koreans and 50 North Koreans, was scheduled to return to its point of departure later in the day.

The western train departed from Munsan Station in the South for
Kaesong Station in the North on a 27.3-kilometer track, while the eastern train left the North's Mount Kumgang Station for the South's Jejin Station on a 25.5km track.

Before the departures at 11:30am, South and North Korea held a ceremony to mark the event at both Munsan and Mount Kumgang stations. At Munsan, South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung and his Northern counterpart Kwon Ho-ung delivered commemorative speeches, and at Kumgangsan, Lee Yong-sup, South Korea's construction minister, and Kim Yong-sam, the North's railway minister, officiated the ceremony.

The reconnection of roads and train lines severed during the 1950-53 Korean War was one of the tangible inter-Korean rapprochement projects agreed on after the historic summit between then-South Korean president Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000.

On Tuesday, while presiding over a cabinet meeting, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said, "The planned test run of the cross-border train service is a big stride in the development of the Korean people as well as a meaningful progress for peace on the Korean Peninsula."

The president vowed that his government would make sustained efforts to build inter-Korean trust, saying, "The test run will serve as a stepping-stone for an economic union of the two Koreas and all of Northeast Asia. It will also offer a good opportunity for the South Korean economy."

South Korea hopes to use the restored railways to help North Korean workers commute to a joint industrial complex in the Northern border city of Kaesong as well as to transport South Korean tourists to the North's scenic Mount Kumgang.

"The test runs will be the start of regular rail services between the two Koreas. I hope it will be the first step toward establishing a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula," Unification Minister Lee said in a meeting with US Ambassador Alexander Vershbow on Wednesday.

After his meeting with Lee, Vershbow told reporters, "We think that there is agreement that if we're going to achieve our goals both in inter-Korean reconciliation and six-party talks [on North Korea's nuclear program], it is essential that the US and South Korea work together and coordinate our efforts to the maximum degree possible."

The Gyeongui (Seoul-Sinuiju) line cutting across the western section of the border was severed on June 12, 1951, while the Donghae (East Coast) line crossing the eastern side was cut shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. A set of parallel roads has been in use since 2005 for South Koreans traveling to the North.

The train test runs had been scheduled to take place last May, but North Korea abruptly called them off, apparently under pressure from its hardline military. The cancellation also led to the mothballing of an economic accord in which North Korea would receive US$80 million worth of light-industry raw materials from the South in return for its natural resources.

North Korea's subsequent missile and nuclear weapons tests further clouded hopes of implementing the agreement.

In March, the two Koreas agreed to put humanitarian and economic inter-Korean projects back on track just days after the North promised to take the first steps toward its nuclear dismantlement in return for energy aid and other concessions from the other five members of the six-party talks.

Money also on the move
North Korea is in the process of sending funds from Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in Macau to another North Korean account in a third country, North Korea's official media said.

North Korea is willing to shut down all its nuclear facilities in accordance with the February 13 six-party agreement if the remittance is realized, the North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, quoting a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

The $25 million in North Korean funds had been frozen in the BDA since September 2005, when the United States blacklisted the Macau bank for its suspected links to Pyongyang's illicit activities, including counterfeiting, money-laundering and smuggling.

The money has been available for withdrawal since April 10, but North Korea wished to recover the money through a transfer through a third bank.

Assured that it can access the international banking system, the country will immediately invite a working-level delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) back into the country and conduct in-depth discussions with the US regarding step-by-step measures to follow the shutdown of the nuclear facilities, the ministry spokesman said.

Pyongyang had threatened not to implement the February 13 nuclear agreement signed in Beijing at the six-party talks with South Korea, the US, China, Russia and Japan until its funds were released.

In the agreement, North Korea was supposed to shut down and seal its key nuclear facilities before April 14 in exchange for 50,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil or equivalent aid.

An additional 950,000 tonnes or other energy and economic assistance of the same value is to be provided to the impoverished country once it disables its nuclear facilities and submits a complete list of all its nuclear programs to the IAEA.

It was the first time that the North Korean Foreign Ministry has publicly referred to the transfer of BDA funds.
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