Koreas agree to reopen liaison offices, reconnect across-border rail line

SEOUL, South Korea - Taking a major step toward reconciliation, North and South Korea agreed Monday to reopen border liaison offices and reconnect a railway linking their capitals that has been cut for 55 years by their heavily armed border.

Negotiators in the Cabinet-level talks also agreed to hold regular high-level talks to implement an accord reached at a historic summit of their leaders in June.

''The first step we've taken is very good,'' said chief North Korean delegate Jon Kum Jin. ''We've demonstrated that if we muster our strength and wisdom, we can make a big achievement.''

South Korea's chief negotiator Park Jae-kyu hailed the progress, saying that his government ''will make its utmost efforts to carry through with the historic agreements.''

The five North Korean delegates later planned to pay a courtesy call on President Kim Dae-jung before leaving Seoul.

Monday's agreements, announced in a joint communique, came amid a conciliatory mood fueled by the first-ever summit of leaders of the Koreas in Pyongyang, the North's capital, on June 13-15.

At their meeting, Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il agreed to work together to bring peace to their divided peninsula, the world's last Cold War frontier. They also said they hoped to prepare the way for reunification, a process that could take years or even decades.

The next round of the Cabinet-level talks will be held in the North's capital, Pyongyang, on Aug. 29-31, the joint statement from this weekend's talks said.

The statement had no mention of military and security issues, although South Korea had hoped to discuss opening a military hotline. Seoul officials said such issues will be discussed at the next rounds of talks.

The statement also had no mention of a proposed visit to Seoul by North Korea's Kim Jong Il. But the North Korean chief delegate, Jon, said his leader ''always keeps a promise he makes.''

The two sides instead focused on economic and less sensitive issues, agreeing to reopen the liaison offices at the border village of Panmunjom on Aug. 15. The offices, which serve as a permanent channel of government dialogue, were shut down in 1996 because of political tension after a four-year run.

They also agreed to reconnect a rail line that links Seoul to Pyongyang, then continues on to Shinuiju, a major city on the North's border with China. That line has been cut since the 1945 division of the Korean peninsula.

Talks on reconnecting the rail line will begin at an earliest possible date, the statement said. South Korean nationals cannot enter the North, but the line would give South Korea a link to Russia's trans-Siberian railway, through which Seoul hopes to ship products to Europe.

To celebrate the historic summit, the Koreas will hold festive unification-related programs for a week around Aug. 15, the date of Korean independence from Japanese colonialism in 1945, the negotiators in Seoul announced.

This year, the Koreas also plan to exchange 100 people each for temporary family reunions, the first since 1985.

The Koreas have been bitter enemies since the division of their peninsula into the communist North and the pro-Western South in 1945. Their three-year war in the early 1950s ended without a peace treaty.

The last time a senior North Korean delegation visited Seoul was in 1992, when the prime ministers of the two sides visited each other's capital for reconciliation talks. Those negotiations were overshadowed by political tension.

South Korea's Kim Dae-jung has said reunification could take two or three decades and has warned his military to stay on alert in close cooperation with the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in his country.

The North's missile programs are a source of great concern in the region and are a major reason for Washington's decision to consider whether to build a national missile defense system.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment