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Russia, N. Korea to open JV to link railroads

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MOSCOW, July 19 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian technology watchdog said Thursday that Russia and North Korea will set up a joint venture to reconstruct a rail link between the Russian border town of Khasan and North Korea's Najin.

Russian Railways has been negotiating the reconstruction of the eastern section of the Trans-Korean Railroad and its link to the Trans-Siberian Railroad for the past few years. The project, which Russian Railroads estimates will cost at least $2 billion, was first raised in August 2002, when President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il discussed the idea of creating a non-stop rail line from Far Eastern ports to Western Europe.

Konstantin Pulikovsky, head of the Federal Service for the Oversight of the Environment, Technology and Nuclear Management, said the venture would be located in the North Korean port of Najin.

The official, who is also a co-chairman of Russia's intergovernmental commission with South and North Korea on economic and scientific-technical cooperation, met with a North Korean envoy Thursday to discuss holding a three-way meeting with South and North Korea to kick start the project to link the countries' rail networks.

Some Russian oil companies are interested in investing in the development of the railway network, given that the port of Najin houses a large inactive oil refinery with a capacity of up to 6 million metric tons a year (120,000 bbl/d).

By expert estimates, up to 200,000 heavy containers could be delivered from South Korea to Western Europe each year if the project is implemented. The journey would take 10-12 days and would be the cheapest means of transporting freight from South Korea.

Russia and South Korea decided to continue the project this summer despite the uneasy situation surrounding Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions and controversial missile tests.

This situation was aggravated in October 2006, after the reclusive communist state carried out underground nuclear tests, which provoked international protests and calls for the resumption of talks on the program frozen since late 2005.

In June 2003, South and North Korea held a ceremony to link their railways in eastern and western parts of their 'demilitarized zone', the most heavily-mined border in the world.

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