North and South Korea have agreed to resume operations at their troubled joint industrial park after a series of talks on the fate of the rivals’ last symbol of economic cooperation.
A joint statement said on Wednesday that the two countries had agreed to cooperate to restart Kaesong industrial zone and prevent another shutdown. It did not give a date.
The five-point agreement that came out of a seventh round of talks committed both sides to making “active efforts” to resuming normal operations as soon as possible after inspecting the shuttered plants.
A joint committee will be set up to discuss compensation for economic losses suffered as a result of the complex’s closure, according to a copy of the accord released to reporters.
The agreement will help lower tensions ahead of the launch of joint South Korea-US military exercises on Monday which the North had warned could bring the divided peninsula “to the brink of war”.
In April, the North pulled its 53,000 workers out of the park at the height of nuclear tensions between the two sides, with the North threatening the United States and the South with attack.
Established in 2004 as a rare symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, Kaesong was a key hard-currency earner for the North and the decision to shut it down took many observers by surprise.
Reclusive North Korea and the South, one of the richest countries in the world, are technically still at war as their 1950-53 civil conflict ended not in a treaty but a mere truce
The South and the North will prevent the current suspension of the Kaesong industrial complex caused by the workers' withdrawal from being repeated again
Wednesday’s agreement suggested a compromise had been reached where the North accepted the worker pullout had closed Kaesong, while both sides promised to ensure it remained open in the future.
“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 agreement said.
It also included a pledge to promote foreign investment in Kaesong – a key South Korean demand.
The North had proposed the latest round of talks last week, just hours after Seoul announced it was going to start compensation payments totalling $250m to businesses impacted by Kaesong’s closure.
The payout move was widely seen as the first step towards a permanent withdrawal from the zone.
Wednesday’s accord was immediately welcomed by the South Korean company owners who had complained that both Seoul and Pyongyang were using their livelihoods as a political football.
“We will do our best to help the Kaesong industrial park boost its international competitiveness and become a globally viable place for investment,” the association representing the owners said in a statement.