South Korean train makes last trip to North
A South Korean cargo train chugged its way across the heavily fortified border into North Korea on Friday for what may be its last run, with the North putting an end to the historic rail service that had raised hopes for reconciliation between the Cold War foes, reported AP.
"Let's meet again soon!" North Korean railway workers told their South Korean counterparts as they bid one another farewell, one train staff member said.
The suspension illustrates the rapid souring of relations between the two Koreas, at odds since Seoul's conservative President Lee Myung-bak assumed office in February and made a series of moves that upset the North.
The rail service - started a year ago for the first time in more than half a century - was one of the prominent fruits of a decade of reconciliation efforts.
The two Koreas technically remain at war because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. Ties began warming following the first-ever summit of their leaders in 2000, with two liberal South Korean presidents adopting a "Sunshine Policy" that called for reaching out to the North with aid.
But relations chilled again this year with Lee's election, and in anger over Lee's hard-line stance, North Korea announced Monday it would suspend the train and a popular tour program to its historic city of Kaesong, and order some South Koreans to leave an industrial complex in the border city by Dec. 1.
North Korea accuses the South of seeking a "confrontational" policy toward it.
Lee has questioned implementing key accords his predecessors struck with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il that call for providing aid to the North without condition. His administration also recently sponsored a U.N. resolution denouncing North Korea's human rights record, enraging the North.
Former President Kim Dae-jung, who launched the reconciliation process with the North, strongly criticized the South's current approach.
"The Lee Myung-bak government is deliberately trying to disrupt South-North relations," Kim said at a meeting Thursday with leaders of the progressive minor opposition Democratic Labor Party, according to South Korean media reports.
The daily round-trip train service from gleaming Dorasan Station has been largely symbolic, with trains running almost empty most of the time, including Friday. The service was intended to ship raw materials and products to and from the Kaesong complex, but South Korean companies prefer to use a road running parallel to the railway.
Returning from Kaesong on the train Friday, a member of the staff on board, Kwon Eun-young, said she was saddened by the suspension of the symbolic journey.
"Since the railway has been reconnected after 50 years, it would be good to have this service running again as soon as possible," she said. "The North Koreans said: 'Let's meet again soon.'"
South Korea also sent the last batch of tourists to Kaesong before the yearlong program is suspended, and South Koreans working at the Kaesong industrial complex began leaving the North on Friday.
About 4,000 South Koreans have permits to travel to Kaesong or stay in the enclave, but North Korea has said it will limit the number to about 1,500 to 1,700 starting Dec. 1, Seoul's Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said Friday.
Eighty-eight South Korean companies run factories in Kaesong, hiring some 35,000 North Korean workers, churning out everything from shoes to clocks.