Friday, May 18, 2007

Koreas make tracks toward peace

Koreas make tracks toward peace

MUNSAN, South Korea (CNN) -- In the latest sign of reconciliation between the two Koreas, a pair of passenger trains crossed in opposite directions between North and South on Thursday -- the first to make the journey through the heavily militarized frontier in more than half a century.

The trains, crossing from opposite sides of the divided peninsula, carried Korean passengers on a test run over tracks not traversed since the early 1950s, when war broke out and the rails were cut by U.S. and U.N. forces.

A two-mile wide demilitarized border separates the neighbors and travel to and from the reclusive communist North is extremely limited.

But on Thursday, passengers boarded a train at Kumgangsan Station in eastern North Korea and crossed the border to Jejin Station.

Separately, passengers at South Korea's Munsan Station on the opposite side of the divide were sent off amid fireworks and white balloons as their train journeyed north to Kaeson Station, The Associated Press reported.

Each train carried 100 South Koreans and 50 North Koreans, according to South Korea's state-run Yonhap news agency. The trains later returned to their homelands.

The short trips, which lasted just an hour and covered less than 20 miles of track, were hailed as a glimpse of possible future moves towards reconciliation between the two countries, which have never officially signed a peace treaty.

"It is not simply a test run. It means reconnecting the severed bloodline of our people. It means that the heart of the Korean peninsula is beating again," said South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung, AP reported.

North Korean Senior Cabinet Councilor Kwon Ho Ung said the two sides should not be "derailed from the track or hesitate" in moving towards unification, but warned of "challenges from divisive forces at home and abroad who don't like reconciliation and unification of our people," AP reported.

Thousands of family members were separated, many of whom have not yet been reunited despite a set of parallel roads created in 2005 for South Koreans heading to the North.

One South Korean resident, a man in his 90s, told CNN he wished he was on the northbound train so he could visit his family and hoped one day he would be able to.

In March both nations agreed to revive humanitarian and economic inter-Korean projects after Pyongyang agreed to shutter its nuclear program in exchange for economic aid. The North has not yet disarmed as technical issues hold up the transfer of $25 million.
You know it really is a sad story when you think about people in both nations whose families were and still are separated. The political posturing is just such a waste from that perspective. However, thinking the actual process of Korean reunification raises more questions than answers because of the deep systemic and ideological differences.

As South Korea had to pay with aid to North Korea for these trains to take these short trips, it's really a superficial gesture at best.

However, I remember being at the DMZ area and seeing the brand new train tracks being built and the shiny new Dorasan Station. Even I had a bit of hope, but with a North Korea that still isn't making any steps to reform but for asking for aid and botched diplomacy from the US, it's nothing more than a bit of hope.

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