Two Koreas to begin joint railway survey this week

Seoul: The two Koreas will begin a joint survey on reconnecting railways across their border this week, Seoul said Wednesday, the latest move in a rapid reconciliation drive between the two countries.

Linking up the railway systems was one of the agreements made earlier this year between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the South’s President Moon Jae-in.

The two countries — technically still at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a ceasefire instead of a peace treaty — have said they aim to hold a groundbreaking ceremony before the end of the year.

The unification ministry said a South Korean train will depart from Seoul early Friday and cross the border on a 18-day joint mission to examine the North’s rail system.

It will be the first time since 2007 a train from the South will enter North Korea.

The train will have 28 South Korean passengers on board — mostly officials and experts — as well as 55,000 litres of fuel and other unspecified materials.

The project has faced delays over concerns it could violate UN sanctions imposed on the North over its nuclear and missile programmes.

The UN Security Council granted an exemption for the joint study last week, although it is unclear whether others will be given as the project progresses.

Seoul said the survey was purely aimed at gathering information on the current state of the North’s rail system.

“The actual construction will be pursued according to progress in North Korea’s denuclearisation,” the unification ministry said.

The study comes as differences emerge between Seoul and Washington, which stations 28,500 troops in the South as part of their decades-old alliance.

The South’s dovish President Moon has long favoured engagement with the nuclear-armed North and has dangled large investment and joint cross-border projects as incentives for steps towards denuclearisation.

The US has been adamant pressure and sanctions must be maintained on Pyongyang until it fully dismantles its weapons programme.

US president Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un held a historic summit in Singapore earlier this year, signing a vaguely worded deal on denuclearisation.

But since then, talks on denuclearisation have stalled, with meetings either deemed unproductive, pushed back or cancelled altogether.

A second leaders’ summit is expected to take place in early 2019, according to Washington.

[source_without_link]Agence France-Presse[/source_without_link]