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Koreas aim to reopen stalled joint factory park

Jul. 7, 2013 - 10:16AM   |  
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SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — North and South Korean delegates agreed on a desire to restart a stalled jointly run factory park after overnight talks that ended early Sunday, but they couldn’t immediately reach an accord to reopen the complex that had been a symbol of inter-Korean rapprochement.

The Kaesong industrial complex, just north of the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas, was the centerpiece of cross-border cooperation projects hatched during a previous era of warming ties. But it was closed in April as tensions rose between the rivals when North Korea angrily reacted to South Korea’s annual military exercises with the U.S. North Korea pulled its 53,000 workers out of the industrial park, and South Korea then ordered its managers to leave as well, against their wishes.

Tension later gradually eased after North Korea ratcheted down its warlike rhetoric. Officials of the two Koreas met last month and agreed to hold senior-level talks on Kaesong and other inter-Korean issues but the plan collapsed over a protocol dispute.

Representatives from the two sides met again on Saturday and Sunday at the border village of Panmunjom inside the DMZ and shared the view that operations at the park should be restarted, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry and Pyongyang’s state media.

The two Koreas “will make sure that the businesses in the (complex) will restart, depending on their preparations,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said. The countries decided to meet again Wednesday at Kaesong to discuss the resumption of factory operations

South Korea’s Unification Ministry issued a near-identical statement.

South Korean media pool reports cited chief Seoul delegate Suh Ho as saying the two Koreas still had not had sufficient discussions on Kaesong’s restart, and plan to discuss the issue in follow-up talks. The Unification Ministry said it couldn’t confirm the report.

North Korea agreed to let South Korean factory managers visit Kaesong to retrieve products and supplies left at the complex, and inspect factory equipment from Wednesday to decrease possible damage ahead of the rainy season, according to the KCNA and the Unification Ministry.

The park, which brought together North Korean labor and South Korean capital, resulted in nearly $2 billion a year in cross-border trade before its shutdown. It was the last remaining joint project between the two Koreas as relations soured over the past five years.

As the park remained shuttered, South Korean businesses that operated in Kaesong sought rescue funds from the government. Some South Korean businesspeople who were forced to leave their Kaesong factories behind sent a message to government officials near the border city of Paju as they headed to the talks Saturday, holding placards that read “We want to work.”

The closure meant a loss of salary for tens of thousands of North Korean workers employed in factories run by 123 South Korean companies, and a loss of goods and orders for business managers who relied on Kaesong to churn out everything from shoes and watches to cables and electrical components.

The Korean Peninsula still officially remains at war because their 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Associated Press writer Youkyung Lee contributed to this report.

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