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North Korea and South Korea have started in-depth talks on reopening joint-project Kaesong Industrial Complex.
The two Koreas agreed in principle to restart operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex after marathon negotiations over the weekend.
South Korea says it wants assurances that Pyongyang will not unilaterally close the factory zone again.
Work at the Kaesong zone has been suspended since mid-April, when North Korea withdrew its workers.
The move came amid high tensions after Pyongyang’s February 12 nuclear test.
The Kaesong complex, which is located just inside North Korea, is home to more than 120 South Korean factories which employ some 53,000 North Korean workers.
The joint project is both a symbol of inter-Korean co-operation and a key source of revenue for Pyongyang.
Sun Ho, who led the South Korean delegation, said his team would strive to accomplish “developmental normalization” of the complex “in accordance with common sense and international rules”.
Another official at the Unification Ministry said: “The weekend marked the first step, but the difficult part starts now.”
North Korea and South Korea have started in-depth talks on reopening joint-project Kaesong Industrial Complex
On Tuesday, a small team of South Koreans crossed into North Korea to check communication and power lines. It was the first time South Koreans had entered the zone in two months.
On Wednesday, around 100 delegates, including dozens of government officials and businessmen and engineers, entered North Korea to begin formal talks.
Pyongyang has agreed to allow the businessmen to inspect their factories and retrieve finished goods.
Both sides blame the other for the suspension of operations at Kaesong, and South Korea is now demanding safeguards as a condition for reopening the zone.
“The South wants the North to announce solid actions that will convince everyone that it has no intention of taking unilateral action to prevent movement or pull out its laborers in the future,” Sun Ho said.
“Pyongyang must take responsibility for its actions that caused considerable damage to South Korean companies with factories at the border town,” he added.
Meanwhile, North Korea’s chief delegate, Park Chol-su, said he hoped both sides would “promptly proceed” with restarting the zone.
“It is raining heavily, so I am very worried about those companies’ facilities and raw materials,” he said.
Pyongyang is reportedly expected to request that operations resume at once and that its workers receive higher pay.
Last week, some South Korean firms threatened to abandon the zone entirely and relocate their equipment.
A spokesman representing electronic and machinery makers in Kaesong had said: “Kaesong must be reopened or [the factories] have to move elsewhere.”
Officials from North Korea and South Korea are holding talks on reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex.
The two sides sat down together on Saturday at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone.
Work at the Kaesong industrial park was halted in April amid high regional tensions.
Kaesong, a major source of income for North Korea, was seen as a symbol of inter-Korean ties, and correspondents say its closure showed how serious this year’s political tensions were.
Attempts to hold high-level talks last month failed on procedural grounds.
The meeting is being held on the North Korea side of Panmunjom, South Korean officials said.
Officials from North Korea and South Korea are holding talks on reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex
Seoul suggested the working-level talks on Thursday, a day after Pyongyang said South Korean businessmen could visit the closed complex to inspect and maintain equipment.
Late on Thursday, North Korea accepted the offer, South Korea said.
Prior to operations being suspended, there were around 120 South Korean businesses in the factory park. The companies have been unable to retrieve goods and materials for three months.
Some have since threatened to abandon the zone entirely and relocate their equipment.
Pyongyang withdrew its 53,000 workers from the complex in April, apparently angered by tightened UN sanctions in the wake of its nuclear test in February, and annual South Korea-US military drills.
North Korea also prevented South Korean workers from entering the joint commercial zone.
The last South Korean workers left the zone on May 3.
The talks are very limited but could pave the wave for discussion of bigger issues such as North Korea’s nuclear programme.
The last seven South Koreans workers have left Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, after the two Koreas resolved outstanding financial issues.
The workers had stayed behind after the other South Korean staff had left to negotiate wages demanded by North Korea.
Kaesong Industrial Complex has been at a standstill since North Korea withdrew its 50,000 workers in April.
North Korea has previously restricted entry to Kaesong joint industrial zone, but this is the first time all South Koreans have withdrawn.
The last seven South Koreans workers have left Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, after the two Koreas resolved outstanding financial issues
Kaesong Industrial Complex, which was launched in 2003, was seen as one of the last remaining symbols of inter-Korean co-operation.
North-South tensions escalated following Pyongyang’s third nuclear test in February.
The last seven South Korean workers had been expected to cross the border at 17:30 local time on Friday.
“The return was delayed a little [today] due to some technical procedure issue,” said Hong Yang-Ho, head of the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee
“The North [Korea] fully co-operated during our returning process.”
Hong Yang-ho also said he believes there will be discussions about the future of the complex, but did not elaborate further.
South Korean vehicles loaded with outstanding North Korean wages and taxes worth $13 million crossed into the North at the same time the workers returned.
Those delivering the money have also returned to South Korea, reports say.
The zone is home to 123 South Korean companies which employ North Korean workers, and provides the North with badly-needed hard currency.
North Korea blocked South Korean workers from entering the zone in April, and withdrew its 53,000 workers from the industrial park a few days later.
After North Korea rejected Seoul’s calls for talks on resuming operations at the park, South Korea announced that it too would withdraw all its workers from the complex.
It pulled out 125 South Koreans last week and another 43 on Monday, leaving the final seven to “settle accounting and other unresolved matters”.
Pyongyang has been angered by tightened UN sanctions imposed after its February 12 nuclear test and by joint US-South Korea military drills, which it has described as “attack rehearsals”.
On Thursday, North Korea sentenced a US citizen to 15 years of hard labor for alleged anti-government crimes.
American citizen Pae Jun-ho, known in the US as Kenneth Bae, was detained last year after entering North Korea as a tourist. Analysts suggest Pyongyang could be using the jailed American as leverage.
North Korea has threatened to shut down Kaesong Industrial Complex it jointly operates with South Korea that stands as the last significant symbol of cooperation, after reiterating that it considered the Korean Peninsula back in “a state of war”.
The eight-year-old Kaesong complex in the North Korean border town of the same name, is a crucial source of badly needed cash for the heavily sanctioned North.
North Korea has threatened to shut down Kaesong Industrial Complex reiterating the state of war with South Korea
The industrial park funnels more than $92 million a year in wages for 53,400 North Koreans employed there, and its operation has survived despite years of military tensions. The latest threat to close down Kaesong came amid a torrent of bellicose statements by North Korea in recent days, widely seen as a strategy to increase pressure on South Korea and the US to soften their policies on the North.
Although South Korean officials reasserted that they were ready to retaliate if North Korea committed any military provocations, they said they saw no imminent sign of any such attacks.
On Saturday, cross-border traffic operated as normal, allowing hundreds of South Koreans to travel to and from Kaesong.
Over 300 South Koreans remained in the complex, where 123 South Korean textile and other labor-intensive factories employ the North Korean workers, at an average monthly wage of $144.
The fate of Kaesong is seen as a crucial test of how far North Korea is willing to take its recent threats against the South. Its continued operation was often seen as a sign that Pyongyang’s verbal militancy was not necessarily matched by its actions.
“The South Korean puppet forces are left with no face to make complaint even though we ban the South side’s personnel’s entry into the zone and close it,” North Korea said Saturday in a statement carried by its official KCNA.
North Korea said its dignity was insulted by South Korean news media reports that suggested the North kept the complex open to obtain hard currency.
In another development, some of North Korea’s main government-run Web sites were disabled on Saturday in what news media reports said were cyber attacks.
The disabled sites included those of Naenara, the government’s official Web portal; Air Koryo, the state-run airline; and Voice of Korea, Pyongyang’s international broadcast outlet.
North Korea Tech, a Web site that monitors Internet activities on the Korean Peninsula, said the problems appeared “to be part of a loosely coordinated effort by hackers to target North Korean sites.” By late Saturday afternoon, North Korean officials had not confirmed any attacks on government-run Web sites.
The problems come as some analysts suspect that cyber attacks have become an increasingly frequent weapon in the intensified sparring between the Koreas, although each side denies hacking the other.
South Korean officials suspect that North Korea was behind cyber attacks on March 20 against three banks and the country’s two largest broadcasters. The attacks came five days after North Korea blamed South Korea and the US for cyber attacks that temporarily shut down some of its official Web sites, and warned of “consequences”.
North Korea has been angry ever since South Korea and the US started a joint military exercise in early March. Its bellicosity further escalated when the UN imposed more sanctions against it after its February 12 nuclear test.
North Korea has since declared an “all-out action” against Washington and Seoul and said that the armistice that stopped the Korean War in 1953, as well as all nonaggression agreements with South Korea were nullified.
North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, ordered all his missile units to be on standby and if provoked, attack the US and South Korea with nuclear-tipped long-range missiles, although most analysts doubt the North has them.
A statement by South Korea’s military said that although the North Korean threats were not new, they “are unacceptable and harm the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.”