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Koreans Reach Agreement on Clearing Mines, Establishing Military Hotline - 2002-09-15

Military officials from North and South Korea have reached an agreement on clearing mines and setting up a military hotline in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. The deal is part of a plan to reconnect severed transport links across the peninsula. This marks a significant step in the reconciliation process between the former enemies.

Military officials from the two Koreas have agreed on a code of conduct for soldiers who will clear mines from the demilitarized zone separating North and South. At a meeting in the truce village of Panmunjom Sunday, they also agreed to set up a hotline to discuss any issues raised during construction of the rail and road links.

The arrangement is designed to avoid any accidental military conflicts along the world's most heavily armed border.

General Kim Kyung-duk who led the negotiations for the South Korean side, says actual construction can now get underway. General Kim says the two sides have agreed on all the details for construction work and all that remains was to turn theory into reality and for work to begin.

Military officials will hold two further days of talks to arrange for their defense ministers to sign and exchange a formal written agreement.

A ground-breaking ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday with mine-clearing to begin soon after. There will be two sets of rail lines - one in the West, following the Yellow Sea coast and the other on the east coast.

If all goes according to schedule, rail and road links between the two Koreas could be rebuilt by the end of the year. These would be the first direct land transport links since the beginning of the Korean War in 1950.

The agreement marks a significant step towards reconciliation between the two former enemies. The project to reconnect severed transport links was agreed at an historic summit between the leaders of the two Koreas in two years ago, but has been delayed by disagreements and sporadic tensions.

Meanwhile, families separated by the division of the Korean Peninsula wrapped up an emotional meeting at the North's Diamond Mountain resort. A hundred elderly Koreans said farewell to relatives they have seen for the first time in 50 years. It is the fifth such family reunion in two years and the only chance for family contact, as there is no regular mail or telephone links between the two Koreas.

Millions of families were separated by the division of the peninsula in 1945 and the Korean War, which ended in 1953 without a peace treaty.