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Koreas’ bid to reconnect rail, road links clouded by sanctions

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But project still blocked as sanctions remain in place

SEOUL: The two Koreas yesterday launched a project to reconnect rail and road links severed since the Korean War, but actual construction cannot start while sanctions remain in place against North Korea, officials said.

The two sides agreed in October to work on reconnecting railways and roads as part of a thaw in relations that the US fears will undermine efforts to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

"There are a lot of things to do before we actually start construction," South Korean Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee said before the ceremony in the city of Kaesong on the North Korean side of the border.

The materials and investment needed for construction to begin are banned under United Nations and US sanctions imposed over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes. Washington insists sanctions remain until the North gives up its nuclear weapons.

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

They were joined by a North Korean delegation, as well as officials from the UN, China, Russia and Mongolia, said South Korea's Unification Ministry.

Speaking at the event, the North's Vice-Railroad Minister Kim Yun Hyok called for an "unwavering determination to stand against headwinds" that could threaten the project.

JOINT SURVEYS

The two sides will conduct additional joint surveys and design work that could take one or two years to complete, the South's Transport Minister said.

The ceremony was another example of the thaw in relations between the Koreas. But major economic initiatives have yet to take off amid the lack of progress on denuclearising the North.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to work towards denuclearisation at a summit with US President Donald Trump in June.

Negotiations have made little headway, with Pyongyang upset at Washington's insistence that sanctions remain until the North takes concrete steps to give up its nuclear arsenal.

"The South is trying to build on existing agreements, believing that advancing inter-Korean ties would have a positive impact on denuclearisation," said Mr Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

"But given the absence of actual construction, the North will keep pressing the South to make it happen despite sanctions, in line with Kim's efforts to shore up his regime." - REUTERS

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