Koreas hold symbolic groundbreaking ceremony to link railroads across border

Minnie Murray
December 28, 2018

North and South Korea held a ground-breaking ceremony Wednesday for an ambitious project to link their railway and road networks, but until sanctions are lifted the plans are unlikely to progress much further.

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

South and North Korean government officials connect northern and southern railroad tracks during a groundbreaking ceremony at Panmun Station in Kaesong, North Korea, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018.

"Railways will now also play a role of reducing the gap between the hearts of South and North Korea", South Korean Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee said.

It's one of several peace gestures agreed between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in as they push ahead with engagement amid a stalemate in larger nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.

Seoul said it the United Nations security council had granted it an exemption from sanctions to facilitate Wednesday's ceremony, which involved South Korean transport vehicles and materials.

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.

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.

The Koreas in December 2007 began freight services between South Korea's Munsan Station in Paju and the North's Panmun Station to support operations at a now-shuttered joint factory park in Kaesong.

The South's transport minister and the North's vice railway minister took turns delivering key celebratory speeches followed by such events as track-linking, signing a railway sleeper and unveiling a signboard at the station, according to pool reports.

The two sides wrapped up their joint railway and road inspections for the projects this month.

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.

In a further step, the convergence of South and North Korea have initiated the restoration of its rail and road links across the border.

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.

South Korean navy vessels taking part in a naval drill off the east coast of South Korea.

Any progress on the project, however, will require changes to United States-led economic actions against North Korea.

According to the severe stresses in the past years due to a number of nuclear and missile tests by North Korea, both countries approach since the beginning of this year.

Last week, North Korean state media said removal of the U.S.'s nuclear weapons from the region was a condition of its own disarmament, raising the stakes for President Donald Trump's efforts to hold a second summit with Kim, after their first meeting in June.

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