Gov't drew up W350 bil. for inter-Korean railway, road project

Source: The Korea Times / 8 November 2018

The unification ministry set aside around 350 billion won ($315 million) to connect the rail and road networks of the two Koreas according to documents that were initially undisclosed.

The documents obtained by Rep. Choung Byoung-gug of the Bareunmirae Party from the ministry and National Assembly, stated that 352.6 billion won out of a 1.97 trillion won fund for inter-Korean affairs had been set aside to link transport networks with North Korea. The documents for the first time showed the government's budget for the project.

Specifically, the ministry had set aside 134.1 billion won for rail connections and 54.8 billion won for roads. The ministry also reportedly drew up another 163.7 billion won for "establishing infrastructure for inter-Korean economic cooperation."

The budget was drawn up at a time when the project has been put on hold as the Koreas have yet to conduct inspections on train tracks in the North. This is because the United Nations Command, which is in charge of approving personnel and equipment crossing the military demarcation line (MDL), has barred South Koreans from crossing to survey the North's transport infrastructure.

This is due to the fact that a South Korean train carrying oil needs to cross the MDL. The United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea ban this. Resolution 2397 states "all member states shall prohibit the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to North Korea, through their territories or by their nationals, or using their flag vessels, aircraft, pipelines, rail lines, or vehicles, of all refined petroleum products."

The U.S. has maintained its stance that sanctions will not be eased until North Korea achieves denuclearization.

The Koreas had planned for the inspection of the North's rail lines to take place in August, but this remains postponed.

The inspections would need to take place this month if the groundbreaking ceremony for the project to connect the railways were to take place in late November or early December, as the Koreas agreed to at a high-level meeting last month.

Meanwhile, a unification ministry official said Thursday the government "was making preparations so the groundbreaking ceremony can take place as agreed."

The remarks come amid circumstances in which a high-level meeting between North Korea and the U.S., previously scheduled to take place this week, has been postponed.

The official also confirmed Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon's visit to the U.S. next week. During his visit, the minister is expected to speak with U.S. officials about pushing forward with inter-Korean projects amid ongoing denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington.