Koreas set to hold railway ceremony in Kaesong

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Koreas set to hold railway ceremony in Kaesong

South and North Korea are set to hold a joint groundbreaking ceremony in the border town of Kaesong today for a project to modernize the North’s railways and connect them to the South’s.

The South’s delegation of approximately 100 members is set to depart Seoul at 6:45 a.m. for Panmun Station in Kaesong. It will be led by Transportation Minister Kim Hyun-mee, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon and the ruling Democratic Party’s chairman Lee Hae-chan. A host of liberal lawmakers supportive of the Moon Jae-in administration’s policy of engagement with North Korea are also on the roster of attendees.

Other notable members of the entourage include five South Koreans with families in the North. The conductor who ran the final few trips in 2008 on the Gyeongui Line - the railway connecting Seoul and the North along the western coast - will also attend the ceremony.

No vice prime minister-level figure is set to attend on the North’s side, as was previously expected. Pyongyang’s delegation will be headed by Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country and Bang Kang-su, head of the National Economic Cooperation Federation. Kim Yun-hyok, the deputy rail minister, Pak Ho-yong, deputy land and environment protection minister and Choi Byong-ryol, the people’s committee chief of Kaesong, will also serve as ranking members of the North’s delegation.

Eight foreign envoys will also attend the ceremony, including Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, secretary-general of UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific; Chinese deputy rail minister Yan Hexiang; Russian deputy rail minister Vladimir Tokarev; Mongolian Transportation Minister Sodbaatar Yangug; and Ganbold Gombodorj, head of Mongolia’s national railway corporation. China and Russia’s ambassadors to South Korea will also be present.

The ceremony is set to run from 9:40 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at Panmun Station, where the two countries’ railways meet. It is designed to highlight the two sides’ commitments to cooperate in modernizing and connecting their railways, according to a press statement from the South’s Unification Ministry released on Monday.

The ambitious rail modernization project was one of the central agreements reached by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during their historic first summit at the peace village of Panmunjom last April.

Around 700 million won ($618,000) was set aside earlier by Seoul for the groundbreaking ceremony. The two leaders agreed to hold the ceremony before the end of the year during their third summit in Pyongyang last September. The budget includes transportation costs as well as expenses needed to set up a stage and hold performances at the event. Planners on both sides will discuss specifics for the project following today’s ceremony, a ministry spokesperson said. On Tuesday, the South’s Foreign Ministry announced that the UN Security Council granted the ceremony a sanctions waiver. This gave the Koreas approval to hold the event. It was previously dogged by concerns that it would violate sanctions that ban the transfer of building materials to the North.

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