Rail and road ceremony planned in hurry

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Rail and road ceremony planned in hurry

South and North Korea agreed in Kaesong on Thursday to hold a groundbreaking ceremony on Dec. 26 for the project to modernize the North's roads and railways and connect them to the South's.

Meeting at the new liaison office in the North’s border town of Kaesong, representatives of the two Koreas agreed that around 100 attendees from each side will take part in the ceremony, though details on the ranks and positions of the participants have yet to be determined, according to the Unification Ministry.

Other details of the planned ceremony - like its venue and precise schedule - will be determined through additional meetings in the near future, a ministry official said.

The South’s delegation of four on Thursday was led by Kim Chang-su, a deputy chief of the liaison office, and the North’s four-person mission was headed by Hwang Chung-song, a senior official from the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, the North’s state agency in charge of inter-Korean affairs.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed at the their third summit in Pyongyang in September to hold the ceremony before the end of this year.

A joint railway survey of the conditions of the North’s railways is still underway, with a total of 28 South Korean inspectors having crossed the border into the North on Nov. 30.

The team examined the western line leading from Kaesong to Sinuiju through Dec. 5 and then began examining the eastern line starting from Mount Kumgang last Saturday. They are expected to reach the eastern line’s endpoint near the Tumen River on Dec. 17.

Though no surveys have been made of the North’s roads, the ceremony will also commemorate groundbreaking on that project as well, a unification ministry official said.

But controversy exists over whether it is appropriate to define the ceremony as a “groundbreaking” given that any actual construction on the railways would run counter to international sanctions imposed on North Korea as a result of its ballistic missile tests last year.

Construction would inevitably require the transfer of building materials like steel from the South to the North, currently banned under UN Security Council Resolution 2397.

While in Argentina for the Group of 20 Summit on Dec 1, Moon himself used the term “launching ceremony” to describe the event to demonstrate the South is working “inside the bounds of international sanctions.”

Seoul also worked to obtain a show of support from Washington for the railway project, which it partly received last month in the words of “strong support” from Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea.

But a waiver would be required if the UN ultimately determines the ceremony violates sanctions, which was granted earlier for the railway inspections.

The Unification Ministry official added that Seoul remains in “constant and close coordination with the United States,” and that preparations were being made to prevent worries from emerging in the international community.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]
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