ROK and DPRK government officials connect northern and southern railroad tracks during a groundbreaking ceremony at Panmun station in Kaesong, DPRK, Dec 26, 2018. (KOREA POOL / NEWSIS VIA AP)
SEOUL - The Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) held an hour-long groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday to connect railways and roads across the inter-Korean border as scheduled, according to ROK's unification ministry.
ROK President Moon Jae-in and top DPRK leader Kim Jong-Un agreed during their first summit in April to set up cross-border rail and road links
The ROK delegation included Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Kim Hyun-mee, and Lee Hae-chan, chief of the ruling Democratic Party.
On the DPRK side, Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland and Vice Railway Minister Kim Yun-hyok attended the ceremony.
About 100 delegates from ROK, including government officials and lawmakers, attended the ceremony. They were greeted by DPRK officials, including Ri Son-gwon.
A nine-car train from ROK carrying about 100 people departed Seoul Station in capital Seoul early Wednesday, and stopped at Dorasan Station, just south of the inter-Korean border, for immigration inspection.
The train crossed the military demarcation line (MDL), which divides the two Koreas, into the DPRK territory at 8:34 am local time (23:34 GMT Tuesday).
The hour-long ceremony that started at 10 am local time comprised celebratory speeches from representatives of the ROK and the DPRK, signing on wooden sleepers, the linking of a track, and the unveiling of a signpost at the station.
ROK's Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Kim Hyun-mee and Kim Yun Hyok, the vice DPRK railway minister, delivered speeches.
Among other ROK invitees were five civilians, who have families in the DPRK separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, and the last locomotive engineer, who drove the train between Kaesong and Munsan, an ROK city just south of the border with the DPRK, for about one year until December 2008.
ROK operated cargo trains five times a week for about one year through the section of the Gyeongui Line from Kaesong to Munsan, but stopped in December 2008 as inter-Korean relations began to sour.
All rail and road links between ROK and DPRK were severed since the Korean War ended with an armistice. The Korean Peninsula remains technically at war with the armistice.
Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and officials from China, Russia and Mongolia also attended the ceremony, according to ROK's unification ministry.
ROK President Moon Jae-in and top DPRK leader Kim Jong-Un agreed during their first summit in April to modernize and eventually set up cross-border rail and road links.
They agreed in their Pyongyang summit in September to hold the groundbreaking ceremony before the end of this year.
ROK Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, bottom left, and officials arrive to board a train to leave for DPRK at the Seoul railway station in Seoul, ROK, Dec 26, 2018. (JIN SUNG-CHUL / YONHAP VIA AP)
Wednesday's ceremony at Kaesong comes weeks after the ROK and the DPRK conducted a joint survey on the northern railway sections they hope to someday link with the south.
Seoul plans to conduct further surveys on DPRK railways and roads before drawing up a detailed blueprint for the project. Actual construction will proceed depending on the progress in the DPRK's denuclearization and the state of sanctions against the country, the ministry said.
"We plan to hold detailed negotiations with the North to coordinate on the specific levels we want to achieve in the modernization of railways and roads and how to carry out the project," said Eugene Lee, the ministry's spokeswoman. The DPRK is also referred to as North Korea.
HONG KONG NEWS