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Long road to reunification

After the fanfare of the meeting between chairman Kim Jong-Il and president Kim Dae-Jung in Pyongyang in mid-year, moves toward a closer relationship have been slow. North Korea’s Tokyo-based unofficial spokesman, Kim Myong-Chol, has predicted peaceful reunification of Korea within five years. It might happen. But the road to unity will be longer and harder than was the path to German unification, finds Kevin Rafferty

The atmosphere at Panmunjom, the village that has achieved lasting fame because the border between the two Koreas runs through it, reveals one kind of reality. You can almost feel the sullen distrust between the two Koreas. Visitors are told to control every movement, for fear that a stray gesture, even a hand shading an eye, might be misinterpreted and cause an incident that could hit the peace tripwire and cause an explosion. Perversely, only the wildlife in the four-kilometre-wide demilitarized zone can truly enjoy the truce: as the area is sown with minefields, tank traps and the most sophisticated kinds of modern military ordinance, there is no modern economic development to disturb the chilly peace. Technically, North Korea and South Korea are still at war because only a truce, not a peace treaty, was signed when the guns fell silent in 1953. Even after the summit of the Kims, Panmunjom is tense. South Korean soldiers manning a permanent border guard never expose more than half of their bodies to the opposing North Koreans a few yards away. There is something symbolic in the fact that the border between the two sides is traced even by the microphone wire along the green-baize- topped table where the two sides get together to discuss problems.

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