Seoul and Pyongyang have agreed to push ahead with a major renovation and modernization of North Korea’s highways and to conduct joint research into the plans, a statement released on Thursday by the South’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) announced.
The statement follows a day of inter-Korean talks on the North Korean side of the Panmunjom truce village, and sees Seoul and Pyongyang reaffirm their April commitment to work together on modernizing the Kyongui and east sea routes near the DPRK-ROK border.
“Going forward, we plan to move forward with these simultaneously,” it reads.
“The scope of construction and standards for modernization for the east sea and Kyongui routes will cover various targets (roads, structures, safety facilities, management facilities), and it was decided that this will be carried out according to international standards and conform to the region’s characteristics,” the agreement says.
The Kaesong-Pyongyang highway is reported to have already been undergoing partial renovation, and was the site of a tour bus crash which claimed the lives of 32 Chinese nationals and four North Koreans in April.
Planning and construction for the modernization project will be carried out jointly, it adds, and a groundbreaking ceremony is set to be “carried out at an early date.”
The two Koreas have agreed to conduct preliminary joint research into the first steps towards the road modernization plan, which will conduct its first on-site visit on the Kyongui route “in early August.”
It does not, however, detail precisely how these routes will be connected to ROK infrastructure across the border – plans alluded to by ROK officials prior to Thursday’s talks – but adds that the joint study group will investigate “South-North road connections and modernization.”
They will also push ahead with a plan to cooperate on the development of “advanced technologies needed to establish the technological foundation for the construction and management of the roads.”
The ROK delegation was led by vice minister Kim Jeong-ryeol of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MOLIT), who was accompanied by Lee Joo-tae, director-general of inter-Korean exchanges at the Ministry of Unification (MOU) and Baek Seung-geun, director of the transport ministry’s road bureau.
The DPRK officials were led by vice minister of land and environmental protection Pak Ho Yong, Kim Ki Chol – his deputy – and Ryu Chang Man of the National Economic Cooperation Committee.
Delegates from Seoul and Pyongyang met at 1000 KST for the first of what would be five rounds of talks – the second this week focused on inter-Korean transport infrastructure cooperation.
Tuesday saw the two Koreas agree to modernize and connect railway systems between the two countries on both the east and west coasts of the peninsula and to commence the project “at the earliest possible date.”
A joint statement released after the meeting said the two sides would “carry out the connection and modernization of the Donghae and Gyeongui railways at a high level.”
This week’s working-level talks see the two Koreas continue the lengthy process of implementing inter-Korean agreements first laid out in April’s Panmunjom Declaration.
That agreement saw the two countries commit to executing various projects previously agreed in the 2007 October 4 Declaration.
Specifically, it committed them to take “practical steps towards the connection and modernization of the railways and roads on the eastern transportation corridor as well as between Seoul and Sinuiju” in the northwest corner of North Korea.
Colin Zwirko contributed reporting and translation