Mine removal heralds Korean rail link


SEOUL, AFP

The South Korean military on Friday unveiled a special task force which will clear thousands of mines for a new road and rail link across the border to North Korea.

There are 2,739 soldiers, including 1,000 from two bomb disposal units, in the new Army Construction Corps to work on the dangerous landmark project, said defense ministry spokesman Ha Doo-chul.

North and South Korea agreed at their leaders’ historic summit in June to reconnect a railway which has been cut since the 1950-53 Korean War and build a four-lane highway from Seoul to the North Korean city of Kaesong, just across the border.

The South hopes it will boost trade and speed up attempts to drag the North out of decades of self-imposed isolation.

But the defense ministry estimates there are about 3,000 mines to be removed to secure the strip of land for the rail link on the southern side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ).

North Korea has set up its own military force to clear mines on its side of the DMZ.

There are believed to be more than one million anti-tank and anti-personnel mines all along the 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) wide DMZ which has divided the Korean peninsula since the war.

To prevent accidental clashes in the zone, which is surrounded by the biggest concentration of arms and soldiers in the world, the South wants a special hotline between the head of the South’s task force and its counterpart in the North, said Kim Kyong-Dok, an assistant director for arms control at the Defense Ministry.

A South Korean army engineering unit demonstrated mine detection drills on a range near Paju, north of Seoul, on Thursday.

Soldiers in bullet proof vests used armored bulldozers and other vehicles with bullet proof windows to blow up mines before moving in with metal detectors.

The South will hold a ground-breaking ceremony for the project on Sept. 18 near the border.