Rail plan puts North and South Korea on track for closer ties

Rail plan puts North and South Korea on track for closer ties

Rail plan puts North and South Korea on track for closer ties

North and South Korea broke ground Wednesday on an ambitious project to modernize North Korean railways and roads and connect them with the South, but without progress in nuclear negotiations, regular trains won't be crossing the border anytime soon.

"The South is trying to build on existing agreements, believing that advancing inter-Korean ties would have a positive impact on denuclearisation", said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

It transports the South Korean participants to Panmun Station in the North Korea's border town of Kaesong, where the groundbreaking ceremony is slated to start at 10 a.m. local time (0100 GMT), Xinhua news agency reported.

The two sides will conduct additional joint surveys and design work that could take one or two years to complete, the South's Kim Hyun-mee said.

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".

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the North's leader Kim Jong-un agreed to hold the ceremony by the end of this year when they met at their third summit in Pyongyang in September.

But beyond on-site reviews and ceremonies, the Koreas can not move much further along without the removal of USA -led sanctions against the North. This was followed by a symbolic linking of the tracks leading to the North and South with a mechanical contraption operated by officials on both sides. A signboard that pointed to both the South's capital of Seoul and the North's Pyongyang was unveiled as well.

South Korea and the DPRK have conducted joint inspections on railways and roads in the DPRK territory, but they were carried out only after the United States gave them a green light.

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.

Trains of South Korea, center left, and of North Korea, center right, are seen at Panmun Station in Kaesong, North Korea.

In a December 24 press conference, a South Korean defense official acknowledged that a camera attached alongside the radar was used to look for a North Korean fishing boat in distress, but the radar itself was powered down.

The attendance of the executive secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, was a de facto seal of approval from the worldwide community at large, which was reflected on Tuesday when the UN Security Council granted a sanctions waiver for the ceremony.

Japanese defense officials have rejected South Korea's denial that one of its ships recently directed military radar at a Japanese patrol aircraft.

"I send congratulatory and peaceful greetings for Christmas to South Korean brothers and sisters", he said.

"The result of the North and South Korean railway and road project depends on our nation's mental strength and will".

"It is extremely regrettable that this kind of incident occurred and we will strongly urge South Korea to prevent a recurrence", the ministry said, adding that Japan is prepared to hold talks with South Korea as defense cooperation between them should not be damaged. For a brief period about a decade ago, South Korea ran freight trains into Gaeseong, where South Korea had an industrial park, until political tensions undermined the project.

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