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Thursday, 19 September, 2002, 06:54 GMT 07:54 UK
Koreas begin demining border
South Korean deminer and soldier on the border
Clearing the mines will take several months
South and North Korean troops have begun clearing landmines from the heavily-fortified Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that separates the two countries.

South Korean soldiers prepare to enter the DMZ
It is not known where the mines lie
Dignitaries watched as about 100 South Korean soldiers, some armed, others carrying demining gear, marched through a previously locked barbed wire gate into the treacherous buffer zone.

South Korean officials said a similar event was taking place in the North.

The work is aimed at clearing two 250-metre (277-yard) corridors through the border so that road and rail links can be reconnected for the first time since the Korean War half a century ago.

Peppered with mines

The work follows spectacular ceremonies on both sides of the border on Wednesday to mark the resumption of the work, which was agreed to two years ago, but has been heavily delayed.

It is just the latest in a series of acts of reconciliation between the rival neighbours, which are still formally at war.

Our correspondent in Seoul, Caroline Gluck, says South Koreans are cynical about the ups and downs in cross-border relations. So much was promised two years ago, when their two leaders met in an historic summit, but so little has been delivered.

Demining the border will prove a challenge for both sides.

"Neither of us (North or South Korea) know where the mines are," said South Korean Lieutenant Colonel Kim Kye-won.

"We are being very careful in consideration of the safety of the troops involved."

Passageway to Europe

A South Korean defence ministry spokesman told Reuters news agency the number of mines was a secret, but that some dated from the Korean War, whilst others had been put down recently.

Re-linking the Koreas
Donghae (eastern) rail line due next autumn to link with Russia
Parallel road due by November
Gyeongui rail line due end of this year to link with China
Parallel road due by spring 2003

Clearance work is expected to take several months.

The work is symbolic, as it will physically reconnect the divided halves of the peninsula.

But it could also turn Korea into a transport hub.

The project involves two sets of cross-border road and rail links, on the east and west coast of the DMZ.

The plan is to link the western line to China and the eastern line to Russia, so freight can travel overland to Europe, significantly cutting costs.

The first of the rail links is expected to be re-connected as early as November.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Gluck
"The buffer zone.... is laced with thousands of landmines"

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

TALKING POINT
See also:

18 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
17 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
15 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
13 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
12 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
12 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
06 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
17 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
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