Koreas hold historic rail crossing

First trains in more than half a century cross heavily fortified Korean border.

    Each train carried 150 passengers on the
    historic cross-border journey [Reuters]

    "The heart of the Korean peninsula is beating again"

    Lee Jae-joung,
    South Korean unification minister

    "The heart of the Korean peninsula is beating again," he told a crowd at South Korea's Munsan station, 12km south of the Demilitarised Zone that divides the two countries.
    Kwon Ho-ung, North Korea's senior cabinet councillor, said the two Koreas "should not be derailed from the track or hesitate" in their moves towards unification.
    But he warned that outside powers – a term the North usually uses to refer to the US - were the main obstacle to reconciliation between the Koreas.
    "Even at this point, challenges are continuing from divisive forces at home and abroad who don't like reconciliation and unification of our people," Kwon said.
    Timeline: The two Koreas

    1945 - Korean peninsula divided following Japanese surrender ending the second world war

    1948 - Two separate governments formed in North and South

    1950 - North Korean army launches surprise attack across border into South, igniting Korean War

    1953 - Korean War ends in uneasy truce overseen by the UN

    1971 - North and South hold first formal talks since end of war

    1997 - Kim Dae-jung elected president of South Korea, pledges "sunshine policy" of engagement with North

    1998 - First South Korean tourists visit North's Mount Kumgang resort

    2000 - Historic Pyongyang summit between leaders of North and South. First family reunions held

    2003 - South Korea begins construction of Kaesong industrial park inside North Korea

    2006 - North-South trade reaches $1.35 bn

    2007 - First trains since start of Korean War run between North and South

    More than 50 years after the end of the Korean War, North and South Korea remain officially at war, never having signed a formal peace treaty.
    The last train to try crossing the border was stopped by American soldiers on December 31, 1950, after which railway links were blown up.
    On Thursday at the South Korean station of Munsan, balloons were released and volleys of coloured fireworks were let off as the train bound for North Korea moved into position.
    As it stopped in front of a red-carpeted platform for passengers to board a large crowd waved paper flags depicting a unified Korean peninsula in blue.
    The train test was approved last week during rare military-to-military talks which agreed on security procedures for the cross-border trial.
    The trains taking part in Thursday's test run, each carrying 150 people, used two separate lines on the east and west of the peninsula.
    One train originated from the South Korean side and traveled about 25km into North Korean territory before turning back.
    The other train travelled from the North Korean side to the station of Jejin the South.

    Before departing one of the passengers on the South Korean train, Yang Hyun-wook, head of the Seoul office of the Korea Railway Corporation, said the journey would be an emotional one.


    "I think it should have happened earlier, but I hope this will be an opportunity for South and North Korea to become one," he said.


    But while the rail crossing was a symbol of reconciliation for some, it was a reminder of loss for others.


    A dozen South Koreans whose relatives have allegedly been abducted by North Korean agents held a protest outside the Munsan station, demanding the government do more to bring their loved ones home.


    "I wish the train would come back with my son if he is still alive," 72 year-old Lee Kan-shim told the Associated Press as police kept her from the site.


    'Step toward peace'

    North and South Korea regularly
    practice for a return to war [Reuters]

    To entice the North to allow the crossing, South Korea offered some $80m in aid for its light industries.
    South Korea, which shares a border only with the North, has said it sees east and west railway lines eventually being used to send passengers and cargo through North Korea into China and Russia and to link up with the Trans-Siberian railway.
    The South's export-driven economy could see huge savings in moving cargo if North Korea allows the railway link to develop.
    Roh Moo-hyun, South Korea's president, this week described the test run as a "big step for the sake of the future of our nation and people".
    "It will serve as an opportunity to move a step toward peace and stability on the Korean peninsula," he told his cabinet.
    The high point of reconciliation between the two Koreas came in the 2000 summit meeting in Pyongyang between the then South Korean president, Kim Dae-jung, and Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader.
    To date it has been the only meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas, although other contacts have been slowly developing.
    Road links have been restored since 2005 and a series of reunions have been held between families split by the division of the peninsula.
    Every year thousands of South Koreans also cross into the North to visit the Diamond Mountain resort or to work in the joint-Korean industrial zone in Kaesong.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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