• S. Korea to redouble efforts for unification

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    SEOUL: South Korea plans to ramp up efforts to prepare for unification and seek dialogue with North Korea on a variety of cooperative projects this year, the government said on Monday.

    Under the plan, Seoul will push for a trial run of a rail line connecting Seoul to the North Korean cities of Pyongyang and Sinuiju and try to enact a law to lay the foundation for the peaceful reunification of the divided Korean Peninsula, the unification, foreign and defense ministries said in their joint policy report to President Park Geun-hye for this year.

    Details and schedules of the plans have yet to be determined through future discussion with the North, officials said.

    “The government has set this year as a starting point for widening discussion over unification and making progress in inter-Korean relations as it marks the 70th anniversary of independence from Japanese colonial rule, as well as the South-North division,” a unification ministry official said.

    South Korea has been calling on North Korea to respond to an offer for the resumption of inter-Korean talks so the countries can have a chance to discuss these issues in detail, he said, referring to Seoul’s overture in late December.

    Under the policy plan, Seoul will also push for a variety of joint inter-Korean commemorative events to mark the 70th anniversary of what are now the two Koreas’ independence in 1945 from Japan’s colonial rule.

    The South also plans to set up Korean cultural centers in Seoul and Pyongyang to induce better cultural exchanges. Besides that, Seoul will seek other joint projects with the North on the three non-political fields of humanitarian assistance, environment and culture as part of the unification preparatory efforts.

    Other envisioned joint plans include the opening of a logistics route that connects a South Korean port to the railway linking North Korea’s Rajin port to the Russian border city of Khasan.

    Despite the envisioned fence-mending measures, South Korea will go ahead with its annual joint military exercises with the United States this year, a high-ranking defense ministry official said on background, rejecting the North’s recent calls for scrapping them

    “[The government] maintains its stance that joint South Korea-US exercises should be carried out continually and consistently, because they are a core part of strong national defense capacity building,” the defense official said, adding that “for that reason, the defense ministry cannot accept North Korea’s calls over joint South Korea-US exercises.”

    Two major joint Seoul-Washington military drills — Key Resolve and Foal Eagle — are scheduled to kick off in South Korea in March.

    Joint Seoul-Washington military drills have been at the center of recent inter-Korean feuds with Pyongyang vehemently demanding the suspension of what it calls a war rehearsal targeting North Korea.

    Yonhap News

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