Koreas hold groundbreaking ceremony for railways, roads

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According to the office, Lee will participate in the groundbreaking ceremony for a joint project to reconnect roads and railways across the border to be held at the Panmun Station in the North's border town of Kaesong.

PHOTO:South and North Korea's officials try to connect the railroad during the ceremony for a project to modernize and connect roads and railways over the border between the Koreas at Panmun Station, Dec. 26, 2018, in Kaesong, North Korea.

A nine-car train carried about 100 South Koreans from Seoul to the Kaesong city of North Korea, in the morning.

South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said the Seoul government plans to conduct further surveys on North Korean railways and roads before drawing up a detailed blueprint for the project.

The train trip to the DPRK was a rare opportunity for the South Koreans as all railways and roads have been severed between the two Koreas since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended with an armistice.

Trains regularly operated across the border for about a year from late 2007 to 2008, before North Korea abruptly shut down the service in protest of a shift in South Korean policies.

South Korea's Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee said the rail link would bridge the physical and psychological distance between the two Koreas and become "a vein of mutual prosperity across northeast Asia".

Actual construction will proceed depending on the progress in the North's denuclearization and the state of sanctions against the country, the ministry said.

Pyongyang and Seoul agreed in October to work on reconnecting railways and roads as part of a thaw in relations that the USA fears will undermine efforts to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

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North Korea's vice railways minister Kim Yun-hyok on his part called for overcoming the unfriendly global atmosphere.

At the event, they were joined by Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, and Vice Railway Minister Kim Yun-hyok, who led a delegation of some 100 North Koreans.

Hope for peace emerged on the peninsula as the leaders of the two Koreas met three times this year, leading to the resumption of inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation.

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.

Either way, regular trains won't be running between North and South Korea until United Nations sanctions are eased.

"In terms of external relations, North Korea could stress its willingness to improve inter-Korean relations dramatically and send a positive message to the USA to continue momentum for dialogue", said Shin Beom-chul, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

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.

Moon's rapprochement toward North Korea included three summits with Kim Jong Un this year, but have been limited by worldwide sanctions and the slowing pace of diplomacy between the two sides.

Pyongyang has expressed anguish at Washington's insistence that sanctions remain until the North takes concrete steps to give up its nuclear arsenal.