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Talks Open on Resuming Korea Transport Links - 2002-08-28

Talks are under way in Seoul between delegates from North and South Korea on reconnecting rail and road links across the heavily guarded border that divides the two countries. Both sides hope to agree on the construction methods and a schedule for the project.

Delegates from the two Koreas presented schedules and proposals for reconnecting cross border rail and road links during their first day of talks in Seoul.

Observers say comments made by the North Korean economic delegation indicate a new eagerness to expedite plans to re-establish links across the Demilitarized Zone separating the two states. But Scott Snyder, the Korea representative to the Asia Foundation, says the issues being discussed this week are no different from those discussed two years ago. "The delegations are really talking about exactly the same issues that had been discussed in the fall of 2000," he said. "It really depends if we see results from this dialogue."

There are indications that the two sides have different goals as to which rail link should be established. One academic says North Korea is under pressure from Russia to have the railway meet up with the Trans-Siberian railroad in the east, but South Korea would prefer connecting a western link first.

"It seems that Russia is very much interested in the Siberian line," said Lee Jung-hoon, a professor of international studies at Yonsei University. "But from an inter-Korea context, first things first, we have to re-link the Kyungdui line first."

Seoul completed work on its side for the western rail link following a landmark summit between the leaders of North and South Korea two-years ago. But relations chilled last year and North Korea has yet to start construction on its side.

Professor Lee says before progress can be made, North and South Korea need to hold military meetings.

Also on the agenda this week are plans for an industrial park to be built in North Korea and reunions of families divided by the border. The three day meeting is a follow up to ministerial level talks held earlier this month.

The meeting also coincides with talks on cultural exchanges and North Korea's participation in the Asia Games being held in Seoul this year.