North Korea, South Korea Agree to Test Railway on May 17

Heejin Koo

North Korea and South Korea today set a new date to test an inter-Korean railway, which could eventually provide South Korea with a rail link across Asia to Europe.

The two Koreas, still technically at war after their 1950- 53 conflict ended without a peace agreement, will hold the test on May 17, the chief South Korean delegate to the talks, Chin Dong Soo, said, after meetings in Pyongyang on inter-Korean economic cooperation that began April 18.

The two countries “will hold working level-meetings on the matter in Gaeseong on April 27-28, and will make an effort to ensure that the Gyeongui Line and the East Coast Line can begin operations in the near future,” a Unification Ministry statement cited Chin as saying in a news briefing. “The two sides will also cooperate on providing military assurances so that the test can take place.”

Last year, South Korea had been scheduled to test the 24 kilometer (15 mile) Gyeongui Line in the west, which stretches from South Korea’s northernmost station of Munsan to Gaeseong in North Korea, and North Korea would have conducted a similar test on the East Coast Line that joins the two nations on the east of the peninsula. The test run was repeatedly postponed from 2004, as North Korea dragged its feet without giving specific reasons.

Isolated Peninsula

South Korea is surrounded by the sea on three sides and by the demilitarized zone on the border in the North. The inter- Korean route may cut transportation costs to Europe by as much as 20 percent and delivery time by a third.

South Korea has been trying to lay such tracks since 1982. The Korea Institute for National Unification estimated in May 2004 that it would cost as much as 6.1 trillion won ($6.3 billion) to upgrade track, signals and stations from South Korea through the North to Russia’s Trans-Siberian railway.

During this round of bilateral economic talks, South Korea had wanted assurances from North Korea that it would fulfill its Feb. 13 pledge to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor. North Korea missed a deadline of April 14, because of holdups in retrieving $25 million of funds that had been held in previously frozen accounts at Macau’s Banco Delta Asia as a result of U.S. Treasury Department financial sanctions in 2005.

Rice Aid Promised

South Korea promised North Korea 400,000 tons of rice aid, as part of the agreement reached today, “for humanitarian reasons,” Chin said. “Still, We made it very clear that the rice aid would be difficult if North Korea fails to comply with the Feb. 13 agreement.”

North Korea had agreed to shut down its reactor for 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, which South Korea offered to provide. North Korea will get economic assistance equivalent to another 950,000 tons of heavy fuel if it disables its nuclear program. The assistance will be provided by the U.S., South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

The two sides also agreed to restart their earlier agreement to jointly develop the North’s mines as well as its manufacturing industries. The two sides will start surveys for underground resources and South Korea will begin shipping raw materials to the North in June.

North Korea and South Korea announced in July 2005 they will develop the communist nation’s natural resources. They are seeking to develop what may become Asia’s largest zinc mine, South Korea’s state-run Korea Resources Corp. said in January.

The two Koreas agreed to hold the next round of bilateral economic talks in July in South Korea, with the specific date and venue to be set in the future.


Comments are closed.