Koreas hold symbolic groundbreaking ceremony to link railroads across border

South Korea's Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon and others board the train to North Korea ahead of the ceremony

South Korea's Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon and others board the train to North Korea ahead of the ceremony

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and top North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed during their first summit in April to modernise and eventually connect railways and roads across the inter-Korean border.

Wednesday's ceremony was another example of the thaw in relations between the Koreas, technically still at war after their conflict ended in a truce not a peace treaty. The Koreas' joint survey of North Korean railways in November, which also required United Nations approval, marked the first time a South Korean train travelled on North Korean tracks.

North Korea has voiced displeasure with the slow progress on projects aimed at building ties between the two sides.

Even if the North takes concrete steps toward denuclearization and gains sanctions relief, some experts say updating North Korean rail networks and trains, which creak slowly along the rails that were first built in the early 20th century, could take decades and massive investment.

A delegation of 100 officials from the South, including the transport and unification ministers, made the two-hour train journey to attend Wednesday's ceremony at Panmun station in the North Korean border town of Kaesong.

SEOUL, Dec 26 - The two Koreas held a ceremony on Wednesday for a project to reconnect rail and road links, although construction can not begin while sanctions over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs remain in place, officials said.

But beyond on-site reviews and ceremonies, the Koreas can not move the project much further along without the removal of USA -led sanctions against the North.

The South's transport minister and the North's vice railway minister took turns delivering key celebratory speeches followed by such events as track-linking, signing a railway sleeper and unveiling a signboard at the station, according to pool reports.

Kim Geum-ok who was separated from her family during the Korean war is part of the delegation
Kim Geum-ok who was separated from her family during the Korean war is part of the delegation

North Korea's head of the Committee for Unification, Ri Son Gwon, was joined by officials from China and Russian Federation to witness the event, which included signing a wooden railroad tie and unveiling a new signboard that read "Seoul-Pyongyang".

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.

The US has also expressed support for the event through a US-South Korea working-level meeting held last week in Seoul.

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.

Government sources said Wednesday the Ministry of National Defense is pushing to change North Korea's status to a non-enemy state in the upcoming biennial paper which will be released next year. Korea observers in Washington have cautioned that South Korea's eagerness to improve relations between the Koreas could drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul.

Among other South Korean invitees were five civilians who have families in the DPRK and were separated from them by the Korean War, and the last locomotive engineer who drove cargo trains across the boarder until the one-year operation stopped.

The Seoul government plans to conduct further surveys on North Korean railways and roads before drawing up a detailed blueprint for the project.

Chasing peace in the middle of war in Afghanistan
Thursday's news of the planned drawdown followed Trump's order on Wednesday to withdraw all 2,000 USA troops from Syria . The Taliban are fighting to oust foreign forces and defeat the Western-backed Kabul government.

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