Ground broken on railway, road project-INSIDE Korea JoongAng Daily

Ground broken on railway, road project-INSIDE Korea JoongAng Daily

No date has been set for the start of construction work on the joint rail and road projects, with South Korea's unification ministry stressing that the ceremony was an "expression of a commitment" and that the project's success would depend on the North making progress on denuclearisation.

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.

A South Korean destroyer locked its fire-control radar onto a Japanese patrol plane last week "multiple times", the Defense Ministry said Tuesday, in its latest rebuttal of Seoul's insistence that the lock-on was not intentional.

"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.

"I send congratulatory and peaceful greetings for Christmas to South Korean brothers and sisters", he said. "There has not been any official discussion on educational exchanges, so (Lee's) suggestion highlights the need", the official 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".

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

Korea Pool  Getty Images
Korea Pool Getty Images

"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.

"We know that linking the railways and roadways is much more than just a physical connection", South Korean Transportation Minister Kim Hyun-mee said at the ceremony, according to prepared remarks provided by the government.

At the end of 2008, North Korea had a section of the rail link to the South for the transport of goods on a short haul, less than a year after their recovery to be interrupted.

The message of the upcoming New Year's speech is garnering attention because North Korea has neither given any specific response to recent conciliatory gestures by the USA nor engaged it in working-level and senior-level talks to hammer out the details of how denuclearization should proceed. "Those who haven't experienced it wouldn't understand the joy that comes in returning to one's hometown", Kim told reporters on the train to Kaesong that morning. A 100-strong North Korean delegation, as well as officials from the United Nations, China, Russia and Mongolia joined this journey.

Both then proceeded to co-sign the sleeper, which included messages marking the event and highlighting the cooperation between the two Koreas on the railway and road project. But negotiations have made little headway, with Pyongyang upset at Washington's insistence that sanctions remain until the North takes concrete steps to give up its nuclear arsenal.

In a separate briefing, the Unification Ministry reiterated that the event was "symbolic", indirectly pointing to sanctions in place against the North, and added that it plans to further inspect roads and railways before moving to the stage of actual construction.

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