(ATTN: UPDATES headline, lead)
SEOUL, Dec. 8 (Yonhap) -- A group of South Korean officials and experts traveled to North Korea on Saturday for a 10-day probe of the North's eastern rail system as part of efforts to connect railways along the divided peninsula.
The 28-member team crossed into the North by bus via the eastern land route across the heavily armed border between the two Koreas, according to the unification ministry.
They will carry out a joint inspection until Dec. 17 with North Koreans of the 800-kilometer east coast Donghae railway from Mount Kumgang near the border with South Korea to the Tumen River at the northeastern tip of the country.
The inspection follows the completion of a six-day inspection of the North's 400-km western Gyeongui rail line Wednesday. A South Korean train sent for the joint work was moved to the east coast to pick up the new inspectors.
The team will move along the railway from Mount Kumgang to Anbyon by bus, which was said to be requested by the North in apparent consideration of the poor condition of that section of the line. They will take the train from Anbyon all the way to the Tumen River at the country's northeastern tip.
The inspection is part of a summit agreement between the leaders of the Koreas in April to modernize and eventually reconnect road and rail systems across their border in a bid to foster reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula.
It is the first such move since 2007, when the two Koreas checked a 412-km railway linking Kaesong to Sinuiju. It will also be the first time a South Korean train has run on the Kumgang-Tumen line since the peninsula was divided following the 1950-53 Korean War.
The joint work has been delayed for months amid U.S. concerns about possible violations of U.N. sanctions on North Korea. The project was given a green light recently when the U.N. Security Council granted a sanctions exemption.
South Korea aims to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the road and railway connection project before the end of this year, as agreed in the September summit.
The Koreas are pushing to expand cross-border exchanges and cooperation in various fields on the back of a growing mood for peace after a series of summits, including the last one in September.
They technically remain at war as the Korean War ended only with an armistice.
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