- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

SEOUL The rapid pace of North Korea's opening to the outside world continued yesterday as the country and South Korea began construction of 2 miles of railroad track across the heavily mined buffer zone of the Cold War's final frontier.

At one site near South Korea's western coast, about 30 miles north of Seoul, a boy and girl with bouquets of roses embraced at a ceremony while the North Koreans held their own celebration a few miles away.

Army troops from the North and South were to work on alternate days, clearing mines and razor wire before laying track that was bombed out during the Korean War more than five decades ago and never replaced. Both sides expect to hammer the golden spike joining the rail link as early as November.

"Today we are standing at the start of a new era during which the South and the North will move forward hand in hand toward the future," South Korea's acting prime minister, Kim Suk-soo, told diplomats and dignitaries at a shiny new glass and marble train station where the southern line now ends.

"We are burying a history marked by the scars of war and the pain of division," he said.

North Korea's willingness to join the railroad is just one in a series of concessions by the isolated communist state to outsiders in the past month.

On Tuesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il confessed to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that North Korean agents had kidnapped about a dozen Japanese during the 1970s and 1980s to train spies in Japanese language and customs. He told Mr. Koizumi during a daylong summit in Pyongyang that four victims were still alive and would be allowed to return to Japan.

The North Korean leader also agreed to let in international inspectors to determine his nation's past efforts to make nuclear weapons a key condition of a 1994 deal that ended North Korean bomb-making efforts and to extend a moratorium on tests of ballistic missiles that it accepted in 2000 under pressure from the United States.

In a similar ceremony yesterday on the other side of the peninsula, fireworks blazed above the East Sea/Sea of Japan near a site where the two Koreas began work to connect a second railroad line. Here, North Korea also has approved a road that will allow South Koreans to drive across the border to a popular mountain resort previously accessible only by cruise ship.

Apart from the familiar border crossing at Panmunjom near the site of the Western rail link, the eastern site will mark only the second crossing along the 150-mile-long Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where more than 1 million troops, including 37,000 American soldiers based in the South, continue to face off.

The United States was expected to set a date shortly for Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly to visit Pyongyang and resume dialogue that had been broken off after President Bush took office and ordered a policy review.

Mr. Bush, who in February included North Korea in the "axis of evil" along with Iraq and Iran because of its sales of missiles and technology to any nation willing to pay, scrapped a Clinton administration plan to launch North Korean satellites on American rockets if Pyongyang would stop making and selling missiles.

Instead, the White House is seeking broad negotiations with North Korea that would include reducing troops and artillery near the DMZ and also deal with North Korean chemical and biological weapons.

South Korea views the railroad as a potential opportunity to ship goods from its factories through North Korea, across Russia or China, and on to Western Europe.

A more immediate economic benefit would be to link the North Korean border city of Kaesong, where the South Korean company Hyundai plans to set up factories for North Korean workers to make shoes and clothing and assemble small appliances, said a senior official in South Korea's Unification Ministry.


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