South Korea has agreed to hold a new round of talks with the North on the shuttered Kaesong joint industrial zone, after Pyongyang offered fresh proposals for re-opening the complex.
North Korea vowed on Wednesday to reopen the troubled zone, which it jointly runs with the South, just minutes after Seoul signalled its willingness to let it close for good.
“We accept the North’s proposal for a meeting on August 14,” said Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-Suk, who described the North’s latest offer as “forward-looking”.
The North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which handles Pyongyang’s ties with Seoul, proposed talks aimed at normalising the project and said, in unusually conciliatory comments, that the safety of South Koreans visiting the factory park would be guaranteed.
The committee said on Wednesday that it was “prompted by its desire to bring about a new phase of reconciliation, cooperation, peace, reunification and prosperity by normalising operation in the Kaesong zone”, it said.
The comments were carried by the North’s official KCNA news agency about 90 minutes after South Korea announced steps to compensate its firms that operate factories in Kaesong for losses – a step widely seen as a move towards shutting down the rivals’ last symbol of cooperation.
The decision to pay 109 South Korean small and medium-sized manufacturers from a government insurance fund came after the North went for 10 days without responding to what Seoul said was its “final offer” for talks aimed at reopening the project.
South Korea had said it would not wait forever.
“There has been a cause that allows for the payment, which is the suspension of the Kaesong industrial zone, a suspension due to the North’s unilateral actions,” South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung suk said earlier.
These latest interactions regarding the complex are seen as the toughest talks since the Kaesong crisis started four months ago in the wake of fresh sanctions on North after it conducted nuclear test.
Impoverished and reclusive North Korea, for which Kaesong has been a rare source of hard currency, 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 in a mere truce.