South Korea state railway chief to visit North

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea said on Sunday it had approved a trip by the head of its state-run railway corporation to North Korea to attend an international conference.

Korea Railway (KORAIL) chief Choi Yeon Hye will visit the North from Thursday to April 28, said Seoul's Unification Ministry which handles cross-border affairs.

She was invited by the Organisation for Co-Operation between Railways to attend its meeting for railway chiefs to be held in the North Korean capital Pyongyang, it added.

The rare visit to the North by a senior Seoul official follows a period of elevated military tension.

Through February and March, the North test-fired dozens of short-range missiles as well as two mid-range missiles, and the two rivals exchanged artillery fire into the sea across their disputed maritime border.

The tensions coincided with Seoul's annual military drills with Washington that ended on Saturday and are habitually slammed by Pyongyang as rehearsals for invasion.

The isolated North has tried to upgrade its tattered railway network via joint ventures with neighbours including Russia.

The two countries last September reopened a 54-kilometre (33-mile) track connecting the Russian border town of Khasan to the North Korean port of Rajin.

Russia envisages the link as part of a so-called "Iron Silk Road" eventually linking Europe and Asia all the way through both Koreas.

But the plan has made little progress on the peninsula due to ever-volatile relations between the two Koreas.