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N.K. spurns S. Korea's invitation for railway restoration ceremony

2015/09/21 11:30

SEOUL, Sept. 21 (Yonhap) -- The Unification Ministry on Monday said that North Korea rejected Seoul's invitation to a ceremony held in August to embark on restoring the South's section of a disconnected inter-Korean railroad.

The ceremony was held on Aug. 5 to mark Seoul's efforts to reconnect the 223.7-kilometer Gyeongwon Line that once ran from Seoul to the North Korean eastern city of Wonsan before the Korean Peninsula was divided 70 years ago.

Seoul first plans to renovate the 9.3-km railway section in the South near the heavily fortified inter-Korean border by 2017. North Korea's cooperation is needed to restore the section in the North.

"Seoul had invited the North to the ceremony to urge it to join hands in relinking the disconnected railways. But the North did not accept it," ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee told a regular press briefing.

He also said that Seoul activists' move to send anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the inter-Korean border is an expression of freedom of speech, but it also should not threaten the safety of border-area residents.

North Korea has vowed to retaliate against North Korean defectors' move to send leaflets against the North and materials via balloon across the border out of concerns it could hurt the North's leadership.

The ministry said that the government cannot curb the leaflet launch as it is a basic right of expressing freedom of speech, but the move should not pose serious threats to residents living near the border.

"The government plans to handle this issue in a balanced manner by taking into account the two aspects," Jeong said.

On Sunday, a group of activists sent leaflets in protest against the North's recent missile and nuclear threats.

North Korea has recently ratcheted up its threats of launching satellites around the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party, which falls on Oct. 10. Outside analysts view this as a cover for ballistic missile tests.

The North also hinted at conducting a fourth nuclear test, though there are no signs of explicit preparations for such a move.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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