Koreas reach landmark mine deal


Military officials from North and South Korea have agreed to start clearing land-mines inside part of the demilitarised zone separating the two countries.

The deal paves the way for the reconnection of cross-border road and rail links, after more than half-a-century of division.

The agreement – between two countries that are still technically at war – was reached after 14 hours of talks in the border village of Panmunjom.

It is due to be formally signed on Wednesday, when the two sides plan to simultaneously start work on cross-border projects.

Work to tear down barbed-wire and clear land-mines inside specified areas within the demilitarised zone is expected to begin on Thursday.

The deal also guarantees the security of workers and soldiers, and provides for the first military hotline between the two countries.

No man’s-land

The BBC’s Caroline Gluck in Seoul says it is a major breakthrough.

The demilitarised zone, a heavily fortified no-man’s-land, has been in place since the end of the Korean war in 1953 – with nearly two million troops stationed on either side.

If the work goes smoothly, one of two planned cross-border railways could be completed by the end of the year.

The South has agreed to provide construction materials to the North to enable the work to be completed.

South Korea regards the routes as a powerful symbol of reconciliation efforts, our correspondent says.

It also believes they could turn the peninsula into a transport hub.

With the lines linked to rail networks in China and Russia, freight could travel overland to Europe, significantly cutting costs.

Opening up?

The Panmunjom talks were part of a broader political agreement reached in August.

High-level talks between the two Koreas resumed last month and have been followed by a series of exchanges.

Limited numbers of elderly relatives from the two Koreas have been holding emotional reunions in the North this weekend after being separated for half-a-century.

They are the fifth round of reunions since the historic Korean summit in June 2000.

Correspondents say that the new agreement comes as North Korea is moving to improve relations with the outside world.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is making an unprecedented visit to North Korea on Tuesday


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