- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2001

SEOUL The militaries of North and South Korea agreed to their first-ever joint peace project yesterday reconnecting a cross-border railway severed by the Korean War half a century ago.

The 41-point agreement, which also agreed on setting up the first-ever hot line between the two militaries, marked another milestone in thawing relations between the two once-hostile countries since a summit of their leaders in June.

The two militaries had never worked together for a peaceful purpose since they fought the bloody 1950-53 Korean War. The war ended without a peace treaty, and the two sides technically remain at war.

For five decades, the two militaries have faced off across the 2 and 1/2-mile-wide Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, which is strewn with minefields and guarded by barbed wire and nearly 2 million troops on both sides.

"By resolving all related military issues, South and North have laid the most important foundation for the railway project," said a statement from Seoul's Defense Ministry.

If reconnected, the railway will become the first direct land transport link between the two Koreas since their war. It will connect Seoul and Pyongyang, the two Korean capitals, and continue to Sinuiju, a major city on the North's border with China.

After reports of the agreement, reached at a border crossing, South Korean officials said they were hopeful that mine clearing will begin in March and that the rail line could be reconnected by the fall, as scheduled.

Also yesterday in Pyongyang, economic officials of the two Koreas opened three days of talks on measures to help ease the communist North's chronic energy shortages.

North Korea asked South Korea in December to provide 500,000 kilowatts of electricity. South Korea said it would consider the request after a joint survey of the North's energy shortages.

North Korea has dozens of power plants capable of generating 7.3 million kilowatts of electricity but can produce only 2 million kilowatts because of outdated facilities and fuel shortages, according to South Korean figures.

The two militaries also agreed:

• A 250-yard-wide corridor will be created across the DMZ to build the railway and a parallel four-lane highway.

• Each side is responsible for clearing mines in its sector of the corridor.

• No military installations can be built inside the corridor except one guard post each in their sectors.

• Mine clearing should be started on both sides of the border simultaneously after one week's notice.

• Both sides should strictly observe the 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily mine-clearing hours. When mines are cleared within a short distance from each side, the work should be done alternately on weekdays.

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