North Korea and South Korea have reached an agreement about re-opening the Kaesong joint industrial zone, officials from Seoul say.
Operations there have been suspended since April when North Korea withdrew its workers amid rising political tensions.
On Wednesday the South’s Unification Ministry said a five-point accord had been agreed, but it remains unclear when operations might resume.
It comes after Seoul called for “final talks” following six previous rounds.
The agreement was signed by the chief delegates from the two Koreas, reports the Yonhap news agency. There are few details about the accord, but Yonhap says the deal is believed to ensure that a similar suspension of operations could not be repeated.
North Korea and South Korea have reached an agreement about re-opening the Kaesong joint industrial zone
“The South and the North will prevent the current suspension of the Kaesong industrial complex caused by the workers’ withdrawal from being repeated again,” the Agence France-Presse news agency also quoted from the agreement.
A joint committee will also be set up to discuss compensation for economic losses, AFP reports.
The Kaesong Industrial Complex, which lies just inside North Korea, is home to 123 South Korean factories which employ more than 50,000 North Korean workers.
It is the last functioning inter-Korean joint project and a key source of revenue for Pyongyang.
North Korea withdrew its workers in April, angered by the expansion of UN sanctions afters its 12 February nuclear test and annual US-South Korea military drills.
Tensions have eased somewhat since then.
Pyongyang agreed to Wednesday’s talks hours after Seoul said it would start distributing compensation payments to South Korean firms hit by the stoppage – a move seen as a precursor to formal closure of the zone.
On Tuesday, the owners of South Korean businesses at the zone called for a deal.
North Korea said last week that reopening Kaesong was in both nations’ interests.
South Korea has proposed “final talks” on reopening the joint Kaesong industrial zone, amid deadlock with North Korea.
Kaesong Industrial Complex has been closed since April, when North Korea withdrew its workers.
The two sides have held six rounds of talks on a restart, but are deadlocked on Seoul’s insistence that Pyongyang agree not to unilaterally close the complex again.
On Sunday Seoul’s unification minister said a written guarantee was needed.
“We want a clear answer from the North on preventing a recurrence,” Ryoo Kihl-jae said.
“Otherwise, we will be left with no choice but to make a grave decision to prevent even bigger damages on our companies in the future.”
North Korea blames the shut-down on South Korean provocations, including military exercises.
Kaesong Industrial Complex has been closed since April, when North Korea withdrew its workers
The proposal for “final talks” was formally communicated to North Korea on Monday via the communication line at the truce village of Panmunjom, South Korean media reported.
It did not include a date or time for the mooted talks, Yonhap news agency reported citing the Unification Ministry.
The Kaesong industrial zone, which lies just inside North Korea, is a major symbol of inter-Korean co-operation and a key earner for Pyongyang.
More than 120 South Korean manufacturers employ some 53,000 North Koreans at the zone, which has been in operation for a decade.
But work stopped in April when North Korea ordered its workers out.
The move came amid high tensions on the peninsula in the wake of North Korea’s February 12 nuclear test and then annual US-South Korea military drills.
Tensions have decreased somewhat in recent weeks, but the two Koreas have not yet found a mutually acceptable solution to the Kaesong issue, despite multiple rounds of working-level talks.
On Sunday Ryoo Kihl-jae met representatives of the South Korean firms, which have now been shut down for four months.
“It’s been almost 120 days. As you mentioned, I think the support [of the government] is not enough. We have not any income for four months,” said Han Jae-kwon, president of the association representing South Korean companies in Kaesong.
North Korea has proposed official talks with South Korea on normalizing commercial projects, weeks after operations at the joint Kaesong industrial zone were suspended.
In a statement from state news agency KCNA, North Korea said the place and date could be “set by the South side”.
Kaesong Industrial Complex, just inside North Korea, is a key source of revenue for Pyongyang.
But it pulled out its workers in April amid high tensions on the peninsula following its February 12 nuclear test.
Since then operations at the zone, where more than 100 South Korean manufacturers employ some 53,000 North Korea workers, have been halted for the first time since the project began a decade ago.
North Korea said late last month it would invite South Korean businessmen back to discuss the resumption of operations but Seoul ruled that out, saying working-level government talks should be held.
There was no immediate response from South Korea.
Mount Kumgang resort is a joint tourism project that has been suspended since a South Korean tourist was shot dead there by a North Korean guard in 2008
The KCNA statement, attributed to the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, said that hotlines cut during the period of high tension would be reconnected if South Korea agreed to the talks.
“We propose holding talks between authorities of the North and the South for the normalization of the operation in the KIZ [Kaesong Industrial Zone] and the resumption of tour of Mt Kumgang,” it said.
The Mount Kumgang resort is a joint tourism project that has been suspended since a South Korean tourist was shot dead there by a North Korean guard in 2008. North Korea has since seized assets of the resort’s South Korean operator.
Restarting reunions of separated families could also be discussed, the North Korea statement said, adding: “The venue of the talks and the date for their opening can be set to the convenience of the South side.”
While South Korea may want to discuss Kaesong, its government has made it clear in the past that more wide-ranging dialogue should be linked to progress on denuclearization.
The offer comes after several months of threats and rhetoric from the communist North Korea.
Apparently angered by the US sanctions imposed after its third nuclear test and annual South Korea-US military drills, it warned of attacks on regional targets and cut key economic and communications links with Seoul.
In recent weeks, however, tensions appear to have lessened somewhat. Late last month, North Korea sent an envoy to Beijing – seen as having the greatest degree of influence on Pyongyang – for talks, for the first time since its nuclear test.