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Page last updated at 08:51 GMT, Friday, 28 November 2008

Korean cross-border train halted

A train returns to Dora Station in Paju, South Korea after a journey to the North (28/11/08)
The train had been seen as a symbol of reconciliation between the countries

A train service connecting North and South Korea is to be suspended today, in a further sign of deteriorating relations between the two countries.

The line across the heavily fortified border was reopened last year and hailed as a symbol of reconciliation.

But North Korea announced on Monday it was suspending the service and other exchanges amid worsening ties.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has angered Pyongyang by taking a tougher stance towards the North.

Pyongyang has also said it will expel a number of South Koreans working on its side of the border and end a tour programme by 1 December.

The daily return cargo service ran from the South to Kaesong, a joint industrial zone in the North where 88 South Korean companies employ about 33,000 North Korean workers.

Last week, Pyongyang announced it intended to close its land border and cut non-military phone links with South Korea.

State news agency KCNA said it had taken the decision because "reckless confrontation" from South Korea was "beyond the danger level".

The South said such a closure would have "a negative impact on what has been achieved in inter-Korean relations".

Symbolic

A spokesman for South Korea's Unification Ministry, Kim Ho-nyeon, told a news conference in Seoul on Friday that both the train service and the tourist trips were being stopped.

"What I can say for sure is that South-North economic cooperation office staff are not returning," said Mr Kim

"They [North Korea] are giving notification individually to the enterprises...but the notification process is still ongoing."

But Mr Kim said up to 1,700 of the 4,000 South Koreans who work in Kaesong will be allowed to keep their permits to cross the border.

The BBC's John Sudworth in Seoul says the service was largely symbolic. Trains often ran empty because it was cheaper for South Korean companies to transport goods by road.

Rail lines between the two sides were first severed during the 1950-53 Korean War. No peace deal was signed, meaning that North and South Korea remain technically at war.



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