SKorean train makes last trip to North
By SHINWOO KANG,Associated Press Writer AP - 49 minutes ago
DORASAN STATION, South Korea - It carried barely any cargo, but a once-daily train between bitterly divided North and South Korea had been freighted with hope that the neighbors _ still technically at war after more than half a century _ were on the right track toward peace.
The service, hard-won through a decade of reconciliation efforts, was launched last year to great fanfare but was halted indefinitely by Pyongyang on Friday amid souring relations since Seoul's conservative President Lee Myung-bak assumed office in February.
Shuttling back and forth from Dorasan Station on the heavily fortified border, the train occasionally carried construction materials north and returned home with shoes, underwear and other goods. But it ran nearly empty most of the time, including during its last journey Friday, with South Korean companies preferring to use a road running parallel to the railway.
Conductor Shin Jang-chul _ whose parents come from an area that is now in North Korea _ had hoped for a day when South Koreans could visit the North simply by hopping on board.
"We don't really talk about politics when working with North Korean train operators anyway," he said. "We just hope that the train will run again as it should."
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.
Also Friday, South Korea sent the last batch of tourists to Kaesong before the program is suspended, and South Koreans working at the Kaesong industrial complex began leaving the North.
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.
Having a quick cigarette before joining the last daylong Kaesong tour, farmer Kim Chang-o said he was frustrated with Pyongyang's decision to shut down the visits.
"We give them _ the North _ electricity, rice, fertilizer and heaps of dollars, even though we know not much of that really goes to the people," said Kim, 60, of Pohang. "And what do we get in return? Them being all spoiled and shutting things down as they see fit. That's not very fair, is it?"
For Kwon Eun-young, a South Korean member of the train staff, there was no anger _ just disappointment.
"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.
"Let's meet again soon!" North Korean railway workers had told her as they bade one another farewell.
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