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S. Korean team to survey N.K.-Russia project next week

DAEJEON  (Yonhap) -- A South Korean consortium will carry out its second inspection of a North Korea-Russia economic project next week, Korea Railroad Corp., one of the consortium members, said Tuesday.

The second inspection aims to examine the business feasibility of the so-called Rajin-Khasan logistics project to make the North Korean northeastern port city of Rajin a logistics hub by linking it to Russia's Trans-Siberian railway.

Last September, Russia reopened a 54-kilometer stretch of track linking Khasan, a Russian eastern border city, and Rajin after a five-year renovation.

A 40-member delegation will fly to Russia's Vladivostok on Monday to participate in a ceremony to mark the launch of the project slated for Friday. South Korea's unification ministry has said that a formal deal between the South Korean consortium and its Russian counterpart for the project will be signed in the second half of the year.

The consortium is comprised of three South Korean companies -- the state-run railroad operator KORAIL, No.1 steelmaker POSCO and the second-largest shipping company Hyundai Merchant Marine Co.

The consortium joined the project by purchasing stakes in RasonKonTrans, a North Korea-Russia joint venture, due to sanctions banning inter-Korean trade that were introduced in May 2010, after the deadly sinking of a South Korean navy ship that was blamed on the North.

North Korea owns a 30 percent stake in the joint venture, with Russia holding the rest. The South Korean firms are considering buying 50 percent of Russia's stake.

The project is closely linked to the "Eurasian Initiative," which is aimed at expanding South Korea's economic cooperation with Eurasian countries, proposed by South Korean President Park Geun-hye last year.

An 18-member team from the consortium conducted the first inspection of Rajin and the railway between Rajin and Khasan from Feb. 11-13.

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