South Koreans visit North for rail project

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon bottom left and officials arrive to board a train to leave for the North Korea at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul South Korea Wednesday 26 December 2018. South Korean officials have traveled to Nor

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon bottom left and officials arrive to board a train to leave for the North Korea at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul South Korea Wednesday 26 December 2018. South Korean officials have traveled to Nor

South and North Korea on Wednesday held a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony for an inter-Korean project to modernise and reconnect roads and railways across their heavily armed border.

"There's a lot of things to do before we actually start construction", Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee said, adding the two sides would conduct additional joint surveys and design work for one or two years.

A number of lawmakers supportive of the Moon Jae-in administration's policies towards the North were in the entourage, as well as a handful of rail and road officials and experts.

"The outcome of the North-South railways and roads project depends on our peoples" willpower and we can not achieve the "unified federation' we hope for if we continue to be swayed by others' opinions", he added.

They were greeted by North Koreans including Ri Son Gwon, who leads an agency which handles inter-Korean affairs.

"If (the South) keeps looking around to check someone's mood and continues wavering, reunification would never be achieved", Kim said at the ceremony at the Panmun railway station in the North's border city of Kaesong, as quoted by the AFP.

Speaking at the event, the North's Vice Railroad Minister Kim Yun Hyok called for an "unwavering determination to stand against headwinds" that could threaten the project.

Trains of South Korea, center left, and of North Korea, center right, are seen at Panmun Station in Kaesong, North Korea. "We have finally dug the first shovel in our modernization project today ... because we are one nation that can not be split apart". Via rail and roads people and resources will go back and forth and various cooperative exchanges will be promoted in culture, sports, tourism, forestry and medical areas.

Trains of South Korea center left and of North Korea center right are seen at Panmun Station in Kaesong North Korea
Korea Pool Yonhap via APTrains of South Korea center left and of North Korea center right are seen at Panmun Station in Kaesong North Korea

But the United States hopes to hold the meeting next month with the arrival of new non-permanent council members that could be more favourable to doing so.

"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.

To celebrate the linking of the two countries' roads, a signboard was unveiled on which the directions to Seoul and Pyongyang were displayed. Work depends on progress in nuclear talks with the North.

The development came after Korean leaders agreed in April to foster balanced development and co-prosperity on the peninsula.

In their September summit, the leaders promised to hold a groundbreaking ceremony before the year's end. Freight trains did run regularly across the border from late 2007 until 2008 to supply the joint Kaesong Industrial complex, but the service was suspended as relations between the two Koreas deteriorated following the election of conservative President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul and North Korean missile tests. An inspection of a short section of road along the Gyeongui Line was conducted on Monday, both in preparation for Wednesday's events.

A North Korean official, speaking at Wednesday's ceremony, hinted at those tensions.

There are other obstacles too, not least the extremely poor state of North Korea's rail network and the massive investment that would be required to bring it up to standard. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, also attended, according to the South Korean ministry.

"I can't put it into words".

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