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(2nd LD) S. Korea allows KORAIL chief to visit N. Korea

All Headlines 16:38 April 20, 2014

(ATTN: CLARIFIES para 6 that travel plan has not been finalized)

SEOUL, April 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has allowed the chief of its state rail operator to visit North Korea this week for an international rail conference, the unification ministry said Sunday.

The ministry said it approved a trip to Pyongyang by Choi Yeon-hye, president and CEO of the Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL), and four other officials for a meeting of the Organization for Co-Operation between Railways (OSJD) set for April 24-28.

The rail conference is meant to boost international cooperation between railway operators, the source said, adding that it is expected to bring together top rail officials from China, Russia and 25 other member states of the OSJD.

The ministry said it decided to approve the trip because it is aimed at attending an international conference. It also said the visit is expected to improve cooperation between KORAIL and OSJD member nations.

The visit comes as tensions are still high on the Korean Peninsula after North Korea fired a series of missiles and rockets off its east coast and threatened to conduct a "new form of nuclear test."

Choi's delegation plans to leave for Beijing on Monday, KORAIL officials said. As soon as they are issued North Korean visas, the officials plan to travel to Pyongyang either by train or air, they said, though they are more likely to take a train if issued visas in time.

Any trip by South Koreans to North Korea requires the South Korean government's approval as well as the North's consent. The sides still technically remain in a state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

South Korea has long talked about linking its rail system with Russia's trans-Siberian railway via North Korea, though the project has made little progress due to political and security tensions.

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