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Amid Tensions, Signs of Inter-Korean Unity - 2003-06-14

On the third anniversary of a historic summit meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas, workers tightened bolts on railway tracks across the infamous Demilitarized Zone Saturday in a symbolic relinking of North and South Korea.

Railway lines between the two Koreas have been severed since the Korean War of the early 1950s.

North Korea wanted a gala ceremony marking the re-joining, while the South preferred a low-key event, an implicit acknowledgment of the tensions caused by North Korea's recently-revealed nuclear weapons program. South Korea's allies have been calling for strong international pressure to persuade Pyongyang to abandon the weapons program.

Officials from both Koreas say they hope cross-border railway traffic will increase bilateral trade and enhance peace on the peninsula. But trains will not be running on either of two new rail lines any time soon.

The western line was the one relinked on Saturday. South Korea has completed its side, but the North has only completed about one-eighth of its 15 kilometer section. Neither country has done more than level the ground and remove mines so far for the second line, in the East. South Korean officials say they hope work will be finished on both lines by December.

Meanwhile, an agreement was announced Saturday on a resumption of tours to North Korea's Mount Kumgang. Visits by South Koreans to the scenic mountain were suspended in April during the outbreak in Asia of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

The resumption was announced by North Korea's state news agency, and by the Hyundai business group, which operates the tours. The statement also said rules would be published later this month for use of an industrial zone in the North, which is being created with South Korean participation.

And Red Cross officials on Saturday announced that North Korea had called for a new round of reunions of families divided by the Korean War. The North and South will each send about 100 people to a reunion at a resort on Mount Kumgang. The Red Cross says this seventh round of reunions will take place between June 27 and July 2.

As these public displays of unity were being made in Asia, South Korea, Japan and the United States were meeting behind closed doors in Hawaii, seeking a common strategy for containing North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

The U.S. State Department said the parties agreed that North Korea's relations with the rest of the world depend on Pyongyang taking prompt action to end its nuclear program. The group also called on Pyongyang to allow Japan and South Korea to take part in any future negotiations on the matter.

North Korea has repeatedly said it will discuss the matter only with the United States, although in recent days it has appeared to be more receptive to the idea of multilateral talks.