A group of South Korean officials and railway experts will return home this week after completing a joint inspection on the rail line along North Korea's western region, a unification ministry official said Tuesday.
A train left for the North on Friday with 28 South Koreans on board to inspect the Gyeongui western railway as part of its 18-day inspection of the rail system in the North.
The personnel will return home Wednesday after completing a six-day inspection on the western line from Kaesong near the border with the South to Sinuiju near the border with China, while the train is to leave for the eastern city of Wonsan for a 10-day inspection on the North's Donghae eastern line, the official said.
"The Gyeongui line team will cross into the South at around 5 p.m. tomorrow," the official told reporters.
He did not share details on the inspection results, saying that it is difficult to confirm such information at this moment.
A separate team of South Koreans will cross into the North on Saturday to conduct the inspection of the North's eastern railway, which will last until Dec. 17.
The inspection of a combined 1,200-km-long railways in the North is part of a summit agreement between the leaders of the Koreas in April to modernize and eventually reconnect rail systems across their border in a bid to foster reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula.
The railway inspection is the first of its kind since 2007, when the Koreas inspected a 412-km railway linking Kaesong to Sinuiju. It is also the first time for a South Korean train to run from Mount Kumgang to the Tumen River on the North's eastern line since the peninsula was divided following the 1950-53 Korean War.
The inspection has been delayed amid US concerns about possible violations of UN sanctions on North Korea. But the project was given a green light recently as the US expressed strong support for the survey, and the UN Security Council granted a sanctions exemption.
The official said that the government hews to its plan to hold a groundbreaking ceremony before the end of this year for the inter-Korean railway and road connection project.
With regard to a North Korean art troupe's proposed trip to Seoul and the planned display of the North-owned historic relics at an exhibition in South Korea, he said that consultations are still under way and more time is needed to fix the dates.
In a summit in September with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to send an art troupe to perform in Seoul in October. The two also agreed to display the North's historical relics during an exhibition to mark the 1,100th anniversary of the establishment of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).
The exhibition, which kicked off on Tuesday, will run through March 3. Officials said that North Korean relics will go on display at the exhibition as soon as they arrive. (Yonhap)