North Korea, South Korea set to hold groundbreaking ceremony for railway project

The ambitious project is among a variety of peace gestures agreed between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in as they push ahead with engagement amid a stalemate in larger nuclear negotiations between Washington

SEOUL, Dec 26 - The two Koreas held a ceremony on Wednesday for a project to reconnect rail and road links, although construction can not begin while sanctions over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs remain in place, officials said. South Korean officials have traveled to North Korea by train to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for an aspirational project to modernize North Korean railways and roads and connect them with the South.

"The groundbreaking ceremony is meaningful in that it demonstrates the Koreas' willingness to actively cooperate on the modernisation and connection project of their railways and roads", the South Korean transport ministry said in a statement carried by Yonhap news agency.

North Korea's head of the Committee for Unification, Ri Son Gwon, was joined by officials from China and Russian Federation to witness the event, which included signing a wooden railroad tie and unveiling a new signboard that read "Seoul-Pyongyang".

Sanctions ban the importation of any construction material into North Korea, and also would forbid any investment in a project that would improve North Korea's infrastructure.

Officials conducted a joint survey of North Korean railways this past fall (a trip that also required United Nations approval), with experts saying the northern rail lines will require a massive amount of investment to update.

The wider significance of the ceremony was also reflected in the presence of eight foreign dignitaries, primarily from neighboring countries like China, Russia and Mongolia.

The attendance of the executive secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, was a de facto seal of approval from the worldwide community at large, which was reflected on Tuesday when the UN Security Council granted a sanctions waiver for the ceremony.

Officials from both Koreas signed a wooden railroad tie, unveiled a new signboard and watched a ceremonial linking of tracks between North and South.

For the Koreans who where present, the ceremony struck a sentimental note.

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25 rebutted South Korea's denial that one of its destroyers had locked its targeting radar on a Japanese patrol aircraft, saying Seoul has "misunderstood some of the facts".

"I'm just deeply moved", Shin said.

South Korean officials, politicians and members of families displaced by the war boarded a special train to the ceremony.

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

Relations between the two United States allies have soured since South Korea's top court ruled in October that a Japanese steel firm must compensate four South Koreans for their forced labour during World War Two.

According to the severe stresses in the past years due to a number of nuclear and missile tests by North Korea, both countries approach since the beginning of this year.

An official from the education office explained that the proposal suggests about 100 South Korean students visit education institutes in Pyongyang.

The prospect of a second meeting between Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump, repeatedly mentioned in the latter's tweets, could possibly bring a breakthrough that could transform Wednesday's ceremony from mere symbolism to more tangible cooperation.

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