South Korea reaffirmed that it will swiftly discuss with North Korea holding a groundbreaking ceremony to link cross-border roads and railways by the end of the year, the South’s Ministry of Unification said Tuesday.
A ministry official told reporters that the government will specify its plans to hold the ceremony by “swiftly carrying on” negotiations with the North on the matter, while stressing that the event is an agreement reached between the leaders of the two Koreas in September.
Though the overall schedule for plans to re-link and modernize roads and railways has been delayed, Seoul has repeatedly expressed strong hope to hold the groundbreaking ceremony before next year.
But the official also acknowledged that circumstances could push the schedule back.
“Although it would be ideal to hold the groundbreaking ceremony immediately upon the wrapup of the joint inspection for the railways and roads, it could be delayed under the circumstances,” the official explained.
The official said the South and North are “pretty much on the same page” on choosing the venue for the ceremony, hinting the two have reached the stage of discussing details of the event. According to sources close to the matter, the truce village of Panmunjom, the North’s border town of Kaesong and Dorasan Station within the Demilitarized Zone are possible venues.
On the nature of the ceremony, the official said that instead of viewing it as a signal kicking off actual construction, it will be “more of an announcement, which expresses willingness to start the construction.” North Korea also views the ceremony in a similar way and plans related to actual construction will be set after the ceremony is held, he added.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in also defined the ceremony in a similar manner earlier this month, saying that the event could violate international sanctions against North Korea if it acts as an event directly leading to the construction. He said the construction stage is subject to further negotiations between the US or United Nations.
Experts are optimistic that the ceremony will be held soon, but remained skeptical over the construction stage of the project.
“The ceremony itself is not an issue, transporting materials into the North, which could violate international sanctions, is another matter,” said Cho Han-bum of the Korea Institute for National Unification.
“The railway inspection was delayed because of the list of materials, such as fuel, that the South was planning to take across the border,” he added, referring to the United Nations Command’s decision to not approve the joint railway inspection, citing procedural problems. The UNC granted the inspection in November after closely discussing the matter with the Seoul government.
Since Nov. 30, the South and North have been conducting a joint inspection on sections of cross-border railways in North Korea, running along both the east and west coast of the Korean Peninsula. A team of South and North Korean officials is currently surveying the eastern line, after wrapping up inspection of the western railway last week. The 18-day inspection involves the test operation of trains on rail tracks.
An inspection of the western road running through the peninsula was held in August, but a survey on the eastern route has yet to be launched.
By Jung Min-kyung (firstname.lastname@example.org)