North, South Korea Hold Groundbreaking Ceremony for Railway Project

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South Korean officials attended a groundbreaking ceremony December 26, for an aspirational project to modernize North Korean railways and roads and connect them with the South.

The groundbreaking ceremony came after the United Nations granted a sanctions exemption for the event regarding materials that were to enter the North.

South and North Korean government officials unveil a signboard showing North Korea's capital Pyongyang and South Korea's capital Seoul during a groundbreaking ceremony at Panmun Station in Kaesong, North Korea yesterday.

Pyongyang's delegation was led by Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, and Bang Kang-su, head of the National Economic Cooperation Federation, and consisted of around 100 members.

Senior transport officials from Russia, China and Mongolia as well as several foreign ambassadors to South Korea will attend the ceremony, the South's Unification Ministry said.

Before this, the two Koreas held an 18-day long joint inspection of North Korea's railways which started at the end of November this year.

This rail link would also mark the first time a South Korean train would run from Mount Kumgang to the Tumen River on the North's east coast since the peninsula was divided following the 1950-53 Korean War.

Seoul sent Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon and Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee to the ceremony in the North's Panmun Station in the border town of Gaeseong.

North Korea has repeatedly voiced displeasure about the slow progress in the reconciliatory projects agreed between their leaders.

Korea Pool  Getty Images
Korea Pool Getty Images

A nine-car special train carrying around 100 South Koreans, including officials and five people born in the North, was seen leaving Seoul railway station early in the morning for the North's border city of Kaesong.

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

The ceremony comes as the US ramps up efforts to convince Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons - a project that appeared to lose steam after the historic summit in Singapore between US President Donald Trump and Mr Kim Jong Un.

Both Koreas agreed on a groundbreaking ceremony within the year at a September summit in Pyongyang. Actual construction will proceed depending on the progress in the North's denuclearisation and the state of sanctions against the country, the ministry said.

The North Korean Council of Religionists, an association of five religions, wished a Merry Christmas and peace and prosperity to South Koreans, in a short video.

"South Korea has expressed its views, but there are some factual mistakes", Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said at a news conference Tuesday.

To start the construction work, the professor said sanctions on the DPRK should be lifted in a broader way, but he noted that Pyongyang and Washington had yet to narrow a gap in negotiations on how to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

Shin Jang-chul, who drove the last freight train between the Koreas when they operated a joint factory park a decade ago, said he never thought he would return to the North. South Korean officials have said they expect to foot the bill using North Korean labor and materials but that costs will be recouped once the trains are up and running.