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Rail-Link Priority
'Good intentions' are key in Seoul

A Big Song and Dance:
Still-shy debutant Pyongyang wins celebrity status at the ARF, but some caution lingers

In Seoul, North Korea's diplomatic offensive continued to gain high marks in the wake of the Bangkok triumph. At the first cabinet-level meeting between the two Koreas in eight years, officials agreed to reconnect the 460-km long Seoul-Sinuiju rail line that was cut in 1945. Specifically, the two sides will work together to reopen a 20-km section from Musan in the South to Changdan in the North, which first entails clearing the area of land mines. South Koreans wishing to travel by train to Moscow or Paris should be able to do so within the next two years.

The rail initiative is one of six agreed during the July 29-31 talks. The meeting also decided to reopen the liaison office in Pyongyang (unilaterally withdrawn by the North in November 1996), to continue dialogue in the spirit of trust and cooperation, and to hold the next meeting in Pyongyang on Aug. 29. Perhaps the most encouraging initiative was North Korea's decision to stop inviting South Korean students and others to a rally held each Aug. 15 to celebrate Korean liberation from Japan. South Korean riot police will no longer have to fight pitched battles against students seeking to join Northern celebrations. In return, Seoul agreed to allow pro-North Korean residents in Japan (who hold North Korean passports) to visit South Korea on that date.

Conspicuously missing was the traditional North Korean demand for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and annulment of the South's National Security Law, which outlaws pro-North activity. This has been interpreted as an indication that leaders already have achieved some sort of consensus on a future course of action. A senior South Korean source said it was clear that Pyongyang came to the meeting "with good intentions to see some progress achieved."

— By Laxmi Nakarmi/Seoul

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