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Koreas Begin Work on Road, Rail Links - 2002-09-18

North and South Korea start work on reconnecting road and rail links across the Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries.

In ceremonies heavy with symbolism, North and South Korea marked the beginning of work on the two railways and roads across the four-kilometer no-man's land dividing the peninsula.

At Dorasan station on South Korea's west coast, the last stop before entering the North, officials said the two governments were leaving behind a history scarred by war and division.

Soldiers then opened a gate topped with barbed wire.

A young girl dressed in white and holding a single red rose, appeared from behind the gate and walked toward the station to be met by a boy dressed in a black suit, holding another red rose. The two children exchanged flowers before walking away together hand-in-hand. A train then rolled as far as it could before reaching the Demilitarized Zone.

South Korean television also broadcast opening ceremonies in the North. North Korean Prime Minister Hong Song-Nam was shown ceremonially digging earth from the ground to signify the start of work.

If all goes according to schedule, rail and road links between the two Koreas could be completed by the end of the year. These would be the first direct land transport links since the beginning of the Korean War.

The project is the latest step in rapidly warming relations between the two Koreas. Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, contact between the people of the two countries has been forbidden. Following a landmark summit between the leaders of the two Koreas in 2000, relations have improved.

In the past few months, the two Koreas have held a number of cultural and sporting exchanges, and there have been new reunions of divided family members. Last month, the governments held high-level economic discussions.

South Korean officials say the government has received letters of congratulation from foreign leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Officials hope the new rail line will eventually link up with the Trans-Siberian Crossing, which in turn would lead into the heart of Europe. Freight could then be transported by rail to Europe instead of by sea.