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Construction on ambitious project cannot begin while sanctions over North’s nuclear and missile programmes are in place.

|Jung Min-kyung, THE KOREA HERALD, AIWA! NO!|South and North Korea held a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday to add significance to their joint project to modernize and reconnect cross-border railways and roads, amid the Seoul government’s efforts to improve inter-Korean relations despite stalled denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang. 

The ceremony kicked off at Panmun Station in the North’s border town of Kaesong at around 10 a.m., according to the South’s Ministry of Unification. Several ranking officials from both Koreas and foreign officials attended the event. 

Earlier in the day, a special Kaesong-bound train transported some 100 South Koreans to the event. Among them were Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, parliamentary leaders and other government officials. 

At the event, they met 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 the delegation of North Koreans.

Kim delivered a key celebratory speech followed by such events as track-linking, signing a railway sleeper and unveiling a signboard at the station, according to pool reports. 

“Announcing the reconnection and modernization of the North-South railways and roads at a time of a historical turning point for unification of the two Koreas and escalated hopes for peace and prosperity is a meaningful event that will leave its mark on our peoples’ history and showcase our power and will for unification to the international community,” Kim told the crowd gathered at the event. 

“The outcome of the North-South railways and roads project depends on our peoples’ willpower and we cannot achieve the ‘unified federation’ we hope for if we continue to be swayed by others opinions,” he added. 

The South’s transport minister and the North’s vice railway minister 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. 

Also witnessing what could be viewed as the start of an ambitious plan to connect the inter-Korean railway to the Trans-Siberian Railway, which could connect the Korean Peninsula to Europe, officials attended from the UN, China, Russia and Mongolia. 

In a separate briefing, the Unification Ministry reiterated that the event is “symbolic,” indirectly pointing to the sanctions currently layered against the North, and added that it plans to further inspect the roads and railways before moving to the stage of actual construction. 

South Korea’s political sphere was divided on the event. The ruling Democratic Party of Korea voiced high hopes for the event, while the main opposition Liberty Korea Party labeled it a mere “trick” to raise President Moon’s approval rating. Moon’s approval rating has plunged to a new-low of 47.1 percent in a poll conducted by Realmeter, the lowest since the president first took office in May 2017. 

The groundbreaking ceremony came as the UN granted a sanctions waiver for the event regarding materials that were to enter the North.

The divided Koreas recently completed an 18-day inspection of sections of cross-border railways in North Korea that run along the west and east coasts of the Korean Peninsula. 

The leaders of the two Koreas agreed in April to modernize and connect the roads and railways across their border, a project aimed at fostering balanced development and co-prosperity on the Korean Peninsula. 

By Jung Min-kyung & Joint Press Corps (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)

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