UN Pressures DPRK to open railways

Korea Herald
Jin Hyun-joo

A senior United Nations official expects that North Korea will join the U.N.’s initiative to connect rail links between the Korean Peninsula and Europe by November.

Kim Hak-su, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, told The Korea Herald that Pyongyang has recently shown positive signs of joining the Trans-Asian Railway Network project.

A test run of container trains on the transcontinental route is possible if North Korea signs the agreement this time during a ministerial conference on transport slated for Nov. 6-11 in Busan, South Korea, said Kim.

The communist nation’s possible participation in the “modern Silk Road” could add momentum to the currently stalled inter-Korean railways projects, observers say.

“North Korea will be expected to sign this one. Every sign shows that they’ll participate. Hopefully in November this year if it is concluded, we are planning a container demonstration run starting from Busan, Seoul, Pyongang, Shinuiju, Beijing and to the West,” he said in an interview with The Korea Herald.

The trans-Asian railway network consists of about 81,000 kilometers of rail routes connecting 28 countries from Asia to Europe. Of the five routes needed for the railway, only the trans-Korean leg is missing. The conceived route’s four other railways run through China, Siberia, Mongolia and Manchuria.

UNESCAP is spearheading the ambitious project as part of its efforts to promote economic and social development in the region.

In 2001, North Korea did not sign a multinational agreement on the implementation of test runs of container block-trains on some routes of the trans-Asian railway.

“If it (the plan) materializes, I will volunteer at the moment to ride on the train first,” the 68-year-old Kim said.

He said other countries’ active participation in the project will pressure the North to join in the move.

“There is what we call a peer countries’ group. Other countries sign, then DPRK will (feel) the pressure.”

Regarding Kim’s optimism for the North’s participation in the project, Na Hee-seung, an adviser with the presidential committee for Northeast Asian cooperation initiatives, said, “Chances are half and half. Hopes are raised, however, as railway issues were actively discussed between the North and other countries this year.”

The multilateral efforts to draw the North to the trans-Asian network will also pave the way for the inter-Korea railway to run, Na added.

“The multilateral action can help resolve the inter-Korean (railway) issue,” he told The Korea Herald.

Late last month, North Korea abruptly cancelled test runs on cross-border railroads which were reconnected in 2003. The railway has been left idle because of the North Korean military’s objection to a test run.

Kim visited Korea last weekend to attend the inauguration ceremony of the first U.N. agency set up in Korea. UNESCAP is headquartered in Bangkok, Thailand.

UNESCAP opened its first Information and Communication Technology for Development Training Center in Incheon, South Korea, with the aim of bridging the gap between IT haves and have-nots in the Asia-Pacific region.

The center will provide training to policy makers, ICT professionals and others from 62 member countries while sharing best practices in the area of ICT development.

Microsoft Corp. also signed a memorandum of understanding with UNESCAP pledging $1 million in support, including software, equipment and cash contributions.


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