- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

SEOUL — North Korea stunned South Korea yesterday with an abrupt decision to cancel landmark test runs of trains across the two nations’ heavily guarded border, underscoring the mercurial nature of the communist regime.

South Korea quickly expressed displeasure. Vice Unification Minister Shin Eon-sang called the cancellation — made barely 24 hours before the planned test — “very regrettable” and warned that his government would consider taking “necessary steps.”

He did not elaborate, but local media, including the official Yonhap News Agency, said the South might reconsider economic aid to the impoverished North.

“The responsibility for the collapse of scheduled trial runs lies in North Korea,” Mr. Shin said.

The tests would have been the first train crossings across the border in more than a half-century and were a high-profile element of efforts at detente between both sides since a pivotal summit in 2000.

Train service between the Koreas was halted in June 1951.

North Korea said yesterday that the situation on the divided peninsula had become too “unstable” to conduct the test runs, criticizing “pro-U.S. ultra-right conservative forces” in the South for “pushing the situation in Korea to an extreme phase of confrontation and war.”

It also said the two Koreas have not worked out a military accord to guarantee the safety of travelers crossing the border.

The two sides held high-level military talks last week but failed to reach agreement.

“We will wait for an appropriate time to come for the trial train operation between the North and the South after a military guarantee is provided … and the situation in the South returns to normal,” said Pak Jong-song, head of the Northern group handling the rail and road issue.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency carried Mr. Pak’s message.

North Korea is known for its unexpected actions. In September, the country flouted a six-nation agreement on abandoning its nuclear program, claiming a day later that it would not disarm, as called for by the accord, unless it first received a nuclear power plant.

It was not clear how the train cancellation would affect relations between the two Koreas. Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea specialist at Seoul’s Dongguk University, said it was a blow to “trust.”

Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at the two sides’ first and only summit, held in June 2000, is planning to travel to North Korea next month and had pressed to go there by train.

Mr. Shin said North Korea should honor its commitment to allow Kim Dae-jung to make the trip. It was not clear whether he would be able to travel by rail.

The two sides have been in an official state of conflict since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

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