South Korea opens immigration checkpoints

South Korea formally opened new immigration checkpoints Wednesday for travelers crossing the heavily fortified border with North Korea, symbolizing Seoul's hopes for boosting exchanges with its longtime communist foe.

A checkpoint at Paju, just two kilometers (1.2 miles) south of the world's last Cold War frontier, is a gateway to one of the two roads and adjacent railways that the divided Koreas have reconnected since their leaders held their first-and-only summit in 2000. A second immigration point to the east connects with a tourist spot in North Korea.

Permanent buildings formally opened at both sites Wednesday replace temporary structures previously used at the crossings.

"We have already entered the process of becoming a unified community by geographically connecting the South and the North through the roads of peace," South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok said at the Paju checkpoint, which now includes a cafeteria and shop selling North Korean wine and traditional Korean goods.

"The immigration offices are no longer 'inspectors' that restrict, check and control, but 'helpers' for comfortable and safe trips between the South and the North," he said.

Relations between the two Koreas have warmed significantly since the 2000 summit, resulting in a flurry of exchanges that include a joint industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong and a tourism project that allows thousands of South Koreans to visit a scenic North Korean mountain near the east coast. The sides have reconnected traffic links to both sites that had been severed since the 1950-53 Korean War.

Last year, more than 400,000 people traveled on the inter-Korean roads, nearly a tenfold increase from 2003, according to the Unification Ministry. Most were tourists traveling to the North's Diamond Mountain resort or officials going to the Kaesong industrial complex.

Despite the increased inter-Korean traffic on the roads, plans for getting trains running have come to a standstill, reports the AP.

I.L.

Subscribe to Pravda.Ru Telegram channel, Facebook, RSS!

Author`s name Editorial Team
X