The two Koreas agreed on Thursday to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the modernization and reconnection of cross-border railways and roads this month, in accordance with the agreement reached between the two leaders in September.
“As a result of an inter-Korean meeting (held Thursday), a consensus that the groundbreaking ceremony should be held on Dec. 26 at Panmun Station in North Korea’s border town of Kaesong was reached,” a statement released by the South’s Ministry of Unification said.
It added that the South and North plan to send 100 participants each to the event and that both sides will continue to discuss further details concerning the matter.
Thursday’s meeting was held at the South-North joint liaison office in Kaesong to hammer out details including the venue, the date and a roster of possible participants, the ministry said earlier.
The South has contacted the North and outlined its plans for the event, and the discussion is expected to proceed based on the North’s response, a ministry official told reporters under the customary condition of anonymity.
The two Koreas each sent four officials to the discussion table, according to the official. The South Korean team included Kim Chang-su, deputy chief of the liaison office from South Korea; while Hwang Chung-song, a senior official at the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, the North’s state agency in charge of inter-Korean affairs, was part of the North Korean delegation.
Prior to the release of Thursday’s statement, skepticism had surrounded the plan to hold the ceremony by the end of the year.
The official said in a separate briefing on Tuesday that though it would be ideal to hold the ceremony upon completion of the ongoing joint railway inspection, slated for next week, the event could be delayed to early next year, depending on the circumstances.
The joint test-operations on sections of eastern railway in the North are expected to be completed next week. Test operations on western railway in the North were completed Dec. 7.
The two Koreas also have yet to carry out an inspection of the eastern road running through the Korean Peninsula. They inspected the western road in August.
Wary of the possibility that the event could violate UN sanctions against the North, South Korea reiterated that the ceremony is likely to be a symbolic event expressing willingness to start the construction of railways and roads, rather than a signal of the launch of actual construction work.
South Korea will require a sanctions exemption from the United Nations, similar to the one granted for the joint inspection of railways, to proceed with actual construction, experts noted.
Panmun Station, located in Kaesong, was established in May 2007 as part of the two Koreas’ plans to test-operate a train on cross-border railways at the time.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed at their third summit in Pyongyang in September to hold a ceremony before the end of the year to break ground for the project to reconnect and modernize railways and roads that connect the peninsula.
By Jung Min-kyung (firstname.lastname@example.org)