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N. Korean port of Rason to be open to S. Korea as early as 2015: minister

2014/03/05 15:23

SEOUL, March 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea may be able to use the North Korean port city of Rason for logistical purposes as early as early next year, the unification ministry said Wednesday.

"The flow of goods through the Rason region may become possible around next spring if things go smoothly," Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said in a lecture to a group of former lawmakers.

"In early February, South Korean companies paid an on-site visit to the Rason area and if this (cooperation project) goes smoothly, major progress would take place around September this year," the minister said of Seoul's push to join the Rajin-Khasan development project between Pyongyang and Moscow.

The project is designed to develop Rajin, the northeastern North Korean port city now reintegrated into Rason, into a logistics center linked to Russia's Trans-Siberian Railway.

In a summit meeting last November, South Korean President Park Geun-hye signed an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin to help South Korean companies join the joint North Korea-Russia logistics project.

In a follow-up step to the summit agreement, officials of three South Korean firms -- Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL), top steelmaker POSCO and No. 2 shipping company Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. -- visited the North Korean port city for a feasibility study.

The government is planning to link the North Korean port to two major South Korean southern ports of Pohang and Busan.

The minister also hailed the recent progress in inter-Korean relations, including the late-February reunions of South and North Korean families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

"As the result of (our) consistent persuasion toward North Korea over the last year, a small but meaningful outcome has been made," Ryoo said.

"Going forward, Seoul will lead inter-Korean talks and cooperation in a way that mutually benefits both countries and helps build up trust between them," he noted.

South Korea is planning to provide government-funded humanitarian assistance to North Korea if the inter-Korean ties improve to a certain extent, the minister said, adding that "however, we are not in that stage yet."

   Ryoo also vowed to help pass the long-pending bill on improving North Korea's human rights conditions, saying that "it is shameful that we could not do it when the international community has done it."

   pbr@yna.co.kr

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