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(3rd LD) Koreas to start work to connect railways, roads within year

2018/09/19 15:28

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SEOUL/PYONGYANG, Sept. 19 (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap) -- South and North Korea agreed Wednesday to intensify cross-border exchanges and work together for balanced economic development on the Korean Peninsula.

They also agreed to break ground for a joint project to connect railways and roads across their border this year and vowed diverse cooperative projects to deepen their friendly ties and foster a reconciliatory mood.

The agreements were reached during summit talks held in Pyongyang between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

"The South and the North agreed to explore practical measures aimed at increasing exchange and cooperation and seeking balanced development," read a joint statement they signed after the summit.

"The two agreed to hold a ground-breaking ceremony this year for connecting railways and roads running along their eastern and western coasts," it also stated.

The decision came months after the leaders reached a deal during their April summit to modernize and eventually connect rail and road systems across their divided border. The Seoul government has set aside nearly 300 billion won for next year to carry out those projects.

Field surveys have been carried out to examine the state of some sections of the North's rail and road networks, but the process has not been fast enough, apparently because of global sanctions on the North.

On the humanitarian front, the two leaders promised to cooperate in allowing their people to hold video-based reunions and exchange video messages between family members separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

In a related move, they promised to open a permanent meeting facility in the North's border town of Kaesong as soon as possible to help their people to meet long lost relatives.

During the summit in April, they vowed to address humanitarian challenges arising from the decadeslong division caused by the Korean War. The Koreas held family reunions last month for the first time since October 2015.

Their renewed commitment to increasing cross-border exchange and cooperation comes amid the North's stalled denuclearization talks with the United States.

Washington's anxiety about the stalemated nuclear talks has made it almost impossible for Seoul to discuss resumption of long-suspended major inter-Korean economic projects, such as the tourism project to Mount Kumgang on the North's east coast and the shuttered Kaesong industrial park.

The Seoul government shut down the industrial complex in February 2016 to punish the North for its nuclear and missile provocations. The Kumgang tour project was suspended in 2008 after a tourist was killed by a North Korean solider.

Moon and Kim promised to resume the operation of the two suspended cross-border projects "when the right conditions are satisfied," a precondition that apparently indicates that progress will remain closely locked with progress in denuclearization talks with the U.S.

They will further discuss establishing joint economic and tourism zones along their western and eastern coasts, respectively.

To foster reconciliation between the rival Koreas, the two agreed to boost cooperation and exchange in many other areas, including cultural and sports sectors.

There will be discussion on holding a performance by a North Korean art troupe in Seoul next month. The two will also cooperate on a bid to co-host the 2032 Summer Olympics, according to the joint statement.

The agreements are regarded as a marked advance in inter-Korean relations from what the leaders reached in their first summit in April.

Still, how fast and faithfully those will be carried out will likely hinge on whether North Korea and the U.S. are able to move their stalled denuclearization talks forward given that Washington has said that sanctions against North Korea will remain in place until Pyongyang takes substantive steps toward giving up its nuclear weapons program.

In the latest summit, Moon and Kim agreed to work together in turning the Korean Peninsula into a peace zone free of nuclear weapons and nuclear threats.

kokobj@yan.co.kr

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