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(LEAD) S. Korea to push for deal with N. Korea on border park

2014/02/06 11:41

SEOUL, Feb. 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea said Thursday that it will push for a deal with North Korea to build a peace park on the heavily fortified border, a project that could help ease cross-border tensions.

South Korea also plans to embark on the project and hold talks with North Korea on the issue in the coming months, though it did not provide any specific time frame.

"We will push to reach a deal with North Korea" on the project within this year, the unification ministry said in a report of this year's major policies to President Park Geun-hye.

Last year, Park proposed that the two Koreas build a park inside the Demilitarized Zone, a four-kilometer-wide buffer border zone, as part of efforts to improve their relations.

Still, the National Assembly has earmarked 30.2 billion won (US$28.7 million) for Park's pet project, 10 billion won less than requested by the ministry in charge of inter-Korean affairs. The Assembly cited a lack of feasibility as the reason for the reduction.

The project requires cooperation from North Korea as well as the U.S.-led United Nations Command, which oversees the Armistice Agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

The ministry also said it plans to explore measures to support a North Korea-Russian project that calls for renovation of a 54-kilometer track linking the Russian eastern border town of Khasan to the North's port of Rajin, as well as modernization of the port.

In November, Park and her Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin signed a memorandum of understanding to help South Korean companies join the Rajin-Khasan development project.

South Korea hopes to eventually link its railway to the Trans-Siberian Railway and Trans-China Railway, an ambitious project that will cut logistics costs for South Korea's Europe-bound exports.

Discussions of the project to connect the Trans-Siberian Railway with the Trans-Korean Railway have been under way for more than a decade, but geopolitical obstacles have hindered it, particularly given North Korea's nuclear and missile ambitions.

The ministry added it will consider providing seeds and agricultural machinery to North Korea while helping plant trees in the mountains and eradicate pests in forests there.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has called for efforts to boost agricultural output.

Food production in the impoverished North is estimated to have been around 5.03 million metric tons in 2013, up 5 percent from the previous year, the U.N. World Food Program said in November.

Still, the food security situation remains serious, with 84 percent of all households having borderline or poor food consumption, according to the U.N. food agency.

The ministry said it will consider expanding humanitarian assistance to North Korea on condition that the aid reaches its intended beneficiaries in the isolated country.

entropy@yna.co.kr

(END)

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