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Koreas to discuss reopening of Kaesong zone

Talks over the future of jointly-run industrial park due to begin in truce village on the countries' border.

Last Modified: 06 Jul 2013 02:54
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The Kaesong estate shut in April and South Koreans were removed from the zone [AP]

Delegates from North and South Korea have met to begin discussions over the reopening of a jointly-run industrial zone that is seen as the last remaining symbol of cross-border reconciliation.

The two sides formally greeted each other on Saturday in Panmunjom, a truce village on the border between the two countries, ahead of talks to try to reach agreement on the future of the industrial complex which was shut down three months ago during heightened tensions on the peninsula.

The Kaesong estate was seen as the last remaining symbol of reconciliation before it which was shut down in April when the North withdrew its 53,000 workers from the 123 Seoul-owned factories there.

Until it was shut down amid high military tensions, the industrial park, a valuable source of hard currency for the impoverished North, had proved remarkably resilient to the regular upheavals in inter-Korean relations.

Saturday's talks follow months of friction and threats of war by Pyongyang after its February nuclear test attracted tougher UN sanctions, further squeezing its struggling economy.

Kaesong was the most high-profile casualty of the elevated tensions between North and South Korea, but neither side has declared the complex officially closed, instead calling its closure a temporary shutdown.

Cross-border hotline

The meeting comes after North Korea on Wednesday restored a cross-border hotline and promised to let South Korean businessmen visit the estate and check on their closed factories.

Representatives of the South Korean companies in the zone have urged the two sides to open talks to revive the industrial park.

The South wants its businessmen to be able to bring back finished goods and raw materials that have been left at the estate, which lies north of the border.

But some firms have threatened to withdraw from Kaesong, complaining they have fallen victim to political bickering between the two rivals.

The South's unification ministry responded cautiously by saying it would try to seek internationally accepted safeguards to develop Kaesong as a politically neutral place.

"We have clarified our position many times that Kaesong must be developed as an area that follows international standards and where commonsense prevails," unification ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-Suk said.

Opposition parties in Seoul urged South Korean negotiators to exercise flexibility and seek practical interests in Saturday's talks.

After repeatedly threatening Seoul and Washington with conventional and nuclear attack, Pyongyang has appeared in recent weeks to want to move towards dialogue.

Analysts say North Korea is mindful of a US demand that it improve ties with Seoul before any talks with Washington.

After plans for high-level talks last month on the future of the Kaesong estate collapsed due to a protocol dispute, Pyongyang proposed direct, high-level dialogue with the US.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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