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(2nd LD) U.N. panel grants sanctions waiver for Koreas' relics excavation

All Headlines 11:45 April 17, 2019

(ATTN: UPDATES with unification ministry's response, more info in paras 5-7; ADDS photo)

NEW YORK/SEOUL, April 16 (Yonhap) -- A United Nations panel on Tuesday granted a sanctions waiver to allow the two Koreas to jointly excavate relics from a historical site in the North, a diplomatic source said.

The U.N. Security Council committee for sanctions implementation against the North issued the waiver at the South Korean government's request, the source said on condition of anonymity.

The excavation project at Manwoldae required a waiver to enable the transfer of relevant equipment to the North, which is under tough U.N. sanctions for its development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

An official from Seoul's foreign ministry confirmed that the waiver has been granted.

"We hope the joint excavation project will promptly resume to contribute to restoring our people's homogeneity," Unification Ministry spokesperson Lee Sang-min said during a regular press briefing. "As the sanctions exemption process has been wrapped up, we will consult with the North on necessary procedures."

The items to be shipped to the North include trucks and excavators needed for the preservation and restoration of the relics, he said.

Despite the sanctions exemption, however, it is unclear how fast the project can move forward because the North could be lukewarm about it amid stalled denuclearization talks with the United States.

South Korea has been eager to expand cross-border projects as a tool to induce the North to give up its nuclear weapons program.

In the face of Washington's uneasiness about pushing inter-Korean reconciliation at a time of slow progress in the North's denuclearization, Seoul sought Washington's cooperation on the waiver in last month's "working group" talks on the North.

Manwoldae was the site of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) palace for about 400 years. From 2007 to 2015, the Koreas jointly conducted seven rounds of excavation work and discovered traces of 40 buildings and 16,500 relics.

This file photo, provided by the Cultural Heritage Administration on Oct. 15, 2018, shows the Manwoldae site in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, where the palace of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) was located for about 400 years. (Yonhap)

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