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

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

"Toward South Korea, he will stress the need to push for inter-Korean projects without being swayed by other countries".

Guests take part in the groundbreaking ceremony for rail, road connection across border between South Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) at Panmun Station in the DPRK's border town of Kaesong on December 26, 2018. Representatives from China, Russia and Mongolia were also present, as were officials from the United Nations including Armida Alisjahbana, executive secretary of the UN's Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

While its symbolism as a first step to modernize the North's land transport system and link it to the South's can not be overstated, the ceremony itself proceeded modestly, lasting for just around an hour at Kaesong's Panmun Station, where the two countries' railways meet.

There was a feeling of nervous excitement on the South Korean train as it left the capital Seoul.

"The artery that connects the South with the North, will be the main bloodstream for the common good in East Asia", said South Korea's transportation Minister Kim Hyun-Mee of the Reports of your speech in Kaesong.

But a few years after the first summit of leaders on the divided peninsula in 2000, South Korea built roads and restored rail links to the North Korean border region.

The continued entreaties by South Korea to engage its neighbor come as concern mounts in Washington that the warming of relations is speeding ahead despite stalled talks between the US and North Korea.

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.

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

A nine-car South Korean train carrying around 100 officials, lawmakers and members of families separated by the 1950-53 war on the peninsula, took a two-hour journey from Seoul to the North Korean town of Kaesong to be greeted by officials from Pyongyang.

Seoul's Unification Ministry said the two Koreas plan to draw up blueprints and designs for the envisioned inter-Korean railways after conducting additional surveys.

'We plan to hold detailed negotiations with the North to coordinate on the specific levels we want to achieve in the modernization of railways and roads and how to carry out the project, ' said Eugene Lee, the ministry's spokeswoman. 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 latest removal of guard posts would leave South Korea with about 50 such DMZ posts and North Korea with 150, according to defense experts in South Korea.

Sanctions ban the importation of any construction material into North Korea, and also would forbid any investment in a project that would improve North Korea's infrastructure.

Earlier in the day, a special Kaesong-bound train transported some 100 South Koreans to the ceremony.

Kim is likely to signal his complaints about the U.S. sticking to sanctions against North Korea and urge it to take corresponding measures, according to Cho Han-bum, senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification. However, due to sanctions that are still in place on North Korea, no trains will be allowed to travel along this route for the time being.

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