North Korea, South Korea set to hold groundbreaking ceremony for railway project
28 December, 2018, 15:27
There were concerns that the train and other materials brought into the North for the ceremony could breach various sanctions imposed on the isolated regime over its nuclear weapons, but the United Nations (UN) Security Council reportedly granted a waiver for the event.
The train trip to the DPRK was a rare opportunity for the South Koreans as all railways and roads have been severed between the two Koreas since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended with an armistice.
"Railways will now also play a role of reducing the gap between the hearts of South and North Korea", South Korean Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee said.
He tweeted the statement after he was briefed by Stephen Biegun, the USA special representative on North Korea, who wrapped up a three-day trip to Seoul last Saturday.
There, Lee will propose the plan to the North, under which South Korean student delegates visit the North, in the first half of next year, at the earliest.
"The ceremony has a historical meaning as it indicates the re-connection of railways and roads which were severed by the Korean War", Kim Joon Hyung, a South Korean professor of worldwide studies at Handong Global University who also attended the event, said in an interview with Xinhua.
Nevertheless, both Japan and South Korea do attach importance to cooperation over issues including countering North Korean threats, and officials of the two countries do share the view that it is more important to settle the dispute than get to the bottom of the radar incident.
But beyond on-site reviews and ceremonies, the Koreas can not move much further along without the removal of US-led sanctions against the North.
Seoul has said work to modernize North Korean railways and roads before connecting them with its own wouldn't start until the global sanctions against Pyongyang were lifted, adding construction hinges on North Korea's denuclearization steps.
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They were greeted by North Koreans including Ri Son Gwon, who leads an agency which handles inter-Korean affairs.
The two sides wrapped up their joint railway and road inspections for the projects this month.
If sanctions are lifted on Pyongyang and construction work starts, railways and roads can be linked from the South Korean capital Seoul to the DPRK's northwestern city of Sinuiju that can be connected to the Trans-China Railway.
North and South Korean officials signed a wooden railroad tie, unveiled a new signboard and observed a ceremonial connecting of northern and southern tracks at Kaesong's Panmun Station, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry.
The wider significance of the ceremony was also reflected in the presence of eight foreign dignitaries, primarily from neighboring countries like China, Russia and Mongolia.
Japanese defense officials have rejected South Korea's denial that one of its ships recently directed military radar at a Japanese patrol aircraft.
"Actual construction will be pursued in accordance with progress in the North's denuclearization and the state of sanctions against the North", South Korea's Unification Ministry said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.
"I send congratulatory and peaceful greetings for Christmas to South Korean brothers and sisters", he said.
The leaders of the two Koreas agreed in April to modernize and connect roads and railways across their border, a project aimed at fostering balanced development and co-prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.
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