S. Korea, DPRK hold road connection ceremony

Seoul — About 100 South Korean passengers boarded a train early Wednesday in Seoul station for a rare trip to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

They were given souvenir tickets with a message saying “Thank you for joining this historic moment to participate in the ceremony to modernize and connect inter-Korean railways and roads.”

The nine-car train departed at 6:48 a.m. (2148 GMT Tuesday) in the cold winter dawn. It crossed the military demarcation line, which divides the two Koreas, into the DPRK territory and arrived some two hours later at Panmun station in Kaesong, a DPRK border town around 70 km north of the South Korean capital Seoul.


The groundbreaking ceremony was held for a project to modernize and link railways and roads across the inter-Korean border along the eastern and western Korean Peninsula.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and top DPRK leader Kim Jong Un agreed during their Pyongyang summit in September to hold the ceremony before the end of this year. The agreement on the connection was reached during the first Moon-Kim summit in April.

The train trip to the DPRK was a rare opportunity for the South Koreans as all railways and roads have been severed between the two Koreas since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended with an armistice. The peninsula remains technically at war with the armistice.

South Korea’s cargo trains ran regularly across the border for about one year before the relations between the two Koreas began to sour in December 2008.

Kim Yun Hyok, the DPRK vice railway minister, said in a congratulatory speech that the ceremony was held at a historic moment when the peninsula was at a turning point and the desire for peace and prosperity was stronger than ever.

He said the ceremony would become an opportunity to actively push for a balanced development between the two Koreas and joint prosperity in Northeast Asia and the world, according to a pool report from South Korean journalists provided by Seoul’s Unification Ministry.

“The ceremony has a historical meaning as it indicates the re-connection of railways and roads which were severed by the Korean War,” Kim Joon Hyung, a South Korean professor of international studies at Handong Global University who also attended the event, said in an interview with Xinhua.

The professor said the re-connection was also part of efforts to enforce the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, advocated by President Moon to prevent any war from breaking out on the peninsula through increased exchanges and cooperation between the two Koreas.


South Korean Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee said in her speech that the two Koreas took a step forward for peace and prosperity on the peninsula as the railway and road connection represents more than a physical connection.

She said the connection would facilitate exchanges across the border and widen inter-Korean economic cooperation, which would benefit the two Koreas. Kim noted that increased exchanges and cooperation would further consolidate peace on the peninsula.

Hope for peace emerged on the peninsula as the leaders of the two Koreas met three times this year, leading to the resumption of inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation. The first-ever DPRK-U.S. summit was held between Kim, the DPRK leader and U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore in June.

The groundbreaking ceremony, which would help bolster the optimistic mood, was attended by about 100 government officials and civilians from each of the two Koreas.

From the DPRK side, Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, and four other high-level officials participated in the event.

Attendees from the South Korean side included Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, Lee Hae-chan, chief of the ruling Democratic Party, and other parliamentary leaders.

Among other South Korean invitees were five civilians who have families in the DPRK and were separated from them by the Korean War, and the last locomotive engineer who drove cargo trains across the boarder until the one-year operation stopped.

Kim Kum-ok, who was separated from other family members by the war, said during the trip that she was glad about her voyage to Kaesong, where the 86-year-old spent her early years, according to the pool report.

Describing the trip as a dream, Kim said the train ride to her hometown had been a big hope of hers.


The groundbreaking ceremony was held, but it was a symbolic event only as the two Koreas were banned from launching construction work for the railway and road connection because of international sanctions on the DPRK.

South Korea and the DPRK have conducted joint inspections on railways and roads in the DPRK territory, but they were carried out only after the United States gave them a green light.

Seoul made efforts to get support from Washington for the groundbreaking ceremony through the working-group meeting last week. The ceremony itself does not violate sanctions, but bringing equipment and materials to Kaesong to build a stage and an audio system requires a sanctions exemption.

“It is a progress as the joint inspections and the groundbreaking ceremony, toward which the United States showed a hawkish stance in the past, were realized. But the most significant is the launch of construction works,” said the Handong Global University professor in the interview with Xinhua.

To start the construction work, the professor said sanctions on the DPRK should be lifted in a broader way, but he noted that Pyongyang and Washington had yet to narrow a gap in negotiations on how to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

He suggested that a part of the sanctions on Pyongyang be lifted, for example, on the railway and road connection project or special economic zones in the DPRK, in return for Pyongyang’s further measures for denuclearization.

If sanctions are lifted on Pyongyang and construction work starts, railways and roads can be linked from the South Korean capital Seoul to the DPRK’s northwestern city of Sinuiju that can be connected to the Trans-China Railway.

Along the eastern peninsula, the inter-Korean railways and roads, if connected, can reach out to the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Foreign dignitaries also joined the groundbreaking ceremony, including Armida Alisjahbana, executive secretary of the United Nations’ Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and senior railway and road officials from China, Russia and Mongolia. (Xinhua)