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N. Korea Team in Seoul for Talks on Transport Links - 2002-08-27

North Korean delegates have arrive in Seoul for talks with South Korean experts on setting up transport links across one of the world's most heavily guarded borders. But one academic says such links have more political significance than practical implications.

Seoul's delegates to the talks greeted the North Korean team at South Korea's Inchon airport. They begin three days of talks Wednesday in a follow-up to a ministerial meeting earlier this month.

The talks will focus mainly on how to link North and South Korea by rail and road. Economic experts will discuss bringing together rival military teams to cooperate in building the rail system across the heavily armed border dividing the two states.

The rail link could be crucial to planning an industrial complex in North Korea, but the railway is likely to be fraught with problems, says Chun Hong-sang, a professor of political science studying inter-Korean ties at South Korea's Pusan University.

In addition, he says it may not be economically viable and industry could prefer to use a ferry system instead to ship goods and people up and down the Korean Peninsula. "If you do not save much time and you have great security problems, who would really use the railway? I think that the talks have more political meaning than actual practical use," he said.

Other political observers say Seoul wants tangible results from these talks. But the South Korean delegation has expressed concern about whether the two sides can agree on when to hold the military talks needed to move the railway system forward.

Other issues on the agenda this week include reunions of families divided by the border and improving anti-flood measures along the Imjin River in North Korea.

North and South Korea also are holding separate talks on the Asian Games this week. A North Korean team is likely to take part in the games, which South Korea is hosting next month.