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S. Koreans leave for N. Korea to check road conditions

A team of South Korean officials left for North Korea on Monday to check the overall conditions of a road in western North Korea as part of a project to modernize and reconnect roads over the inter-Korean border, the unification ministry said.

About 10 South Koreans, mostly from the unification and transport ministries, crossed into the North at around 8:30 a.m. via the western inter-Korean border to conduct the inspection of the 4-kilometer section of road along the North's Gyeongui line, according to the ministry.

They will return home at around 5 p.m. on the same day, it added.


The visit is a follow-up to a joint on-site inspection in August of a 160-km section of road from Kaesong, just north of the inter-Korean border, to Pyongyang. This time the inspectors are not bringing survey equipment.

It also came right after the team visited North Korea for three days until Sunday to check a 100-km stretch along the North's eastern line.

The inspections are in line with an agreement between their leaders in April to modernize and connect the roads and railways across their border, a project aimed at fostering balanced development and co-prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.

The Koreas recently concluded an 18-day inspection of the North's railways in the western and eastern regions after the United Nations granted a sanctions waiver, ending a monthslong delay in the joint work.

Seoul and Pyongyang are currently preparing to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the joint project at Panmun Station in Kaesong on Wednesday, but details have yet to be determined, including who will attend and how the event will be organized.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon will attend the ceremony, his office said. Other participants will likely travel to the North by taking the train used in the recent joint railway inspection.

"Talks on sanctions exemptions related to the items needed for the ceremony are under way (with the U.S.)," Baik Tae-hyun, a ministry spokesman, told reporters during a regular press briefing.

"We will make sure that (the sanctions) will not cause any problems with the event."

Meanwhile, the unification ministry said that it sent an advance team consisting of 31 officials and relevant personnel to the North earlier in the day to prepare for the upcoming event. Of the total, 27 will stay in the venue to continue preparatory work.

This came a day after a 14-member advance team made a single-day trip to the venue for the ceremony.

Seoul earlier set aside around 700 million won ($618,000) to hold the event, which will be attended by some 100 people from each of the two Koreas.

The budget will cover the costs of transporting participants to the venue and other expenses from such plans to build a stage and an audio system.

The groundbreaking ceremony is regarded as a symbolic launch of the road and railway project, not an actual start of construction, amid lingering concerns over a possible violation of multiple sanctions on North Korea.

"The upcoming groundbreaking ceremony will be meaningful in that it will demonstrate our active commitment to cooperation on the future railway and road connection and modernization work,"

Baik told reporters. "After the event, (we) will carry out additional in-depth inspections, and draw up blueprints and designs." (Yonhap)