Hope of closer links between North and South Korea

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Hope of closer links between North and South Korea

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On the 17th of May 2007, for the first time in more than five decades, a train crossed the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea.

Rail links between the two countries were severed in 1951 when the Korean War was at its height.

Rarely has a simple handshake carried so much significance. More than just a gesture, it represented a thawing of relations between the two countries, separated since 1945 along the 38th parallel.

That thaw began during the course of a bi-lateral summit in June 2000. The unprecedented meeting between the South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il paved the way for warmer relations between their countries.

That meant a ray of hope also shone for the many thousands of Korean families torn apart by the conflict. More than ten thousand were brought back together by the authorities but the inexorable march of time means some may never be reunited.

Opportunites have also opened up in unexpected directions. South Koreans can now visit important cultural sites in the North. Since 2003 tourists have been able to travel to Mount Kumgangsan, or “Diamond Mountain”, which, legend has it, Koreans must see before they die.

But behind the rapprochement there is also disagreement. PyongYang will accept no criticism of its human rights record, criticised by experts as one of the worst in the world. Seoul also prefers to keep its own counsel about the repatriation of prisoners of war.

One item not on the agenda for discussion is North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. That is being dealt with via the ongoing multi-party talks involving both Koreas, as well as the US, Russia, China and Japan.