No Talk of Battle at Inter-Korean Meeting

      January 20, 2010 11:41

      South and North Korean officials met in a perfectly civil atmosphere Tuesday for the first time since the North's National Defense Commission threatened a "sacred retaliatory battle" against South Korea. They met at the joint Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex to review a fact-finding trip to industrial parks overseas.

      "North Korean officials neither accused nor threatened South Korea," the Unification Ministry said. A researcher at a government-funded think tank speculated the North is apparently backing down "to pursue practical interests."

      A ministry spokesman said the two sides discussed "practical matters for the development of the Kaesong industrial park. There was no mention of other issues."

      A South Korean delegation leaves Tuesday for the Kaesong Industrial Park in the North through the Dorasan immigration office for a meeting with North Korean officials.

      South Korean officials brought up the issue of easier travel, communications and customs for South Korean staff at the industrial park, while North Koreans reportedly focused on wages and construction of a dormitory for North Korean workers. Pyongyang earns W30-40 billion (US$1=W1,128) from the industrial park per year. The meeting continues Wednesday.

      Pyongyang issued the threat on Jan. 15, apparently riled by reports that South Korea is updating a contingency plan for regime collapse in the North. On Sunday, the official North Korean media reported that leader Kim Jong-il attended a massive drill by the Army, Navy and Air Force in an apparent show of muscle. That led to fears of more grandstanding at the meeting.

      But a government official said the North "is in need of support from South Korea to solve economic difficulties further aggravated by its shock currency reform." It now appears that Pyongyang is determined to take one approach to anything it sees as a threat to the regime, including the contingency plan, and another to matters where it stands to benefit such as the Kaesong industrial park and tours of Mt. Kumgang, he added.

      In the same vein, the North in December approved the establishment of the first-ever South-North joint venture firm in the Rajin-Sonbong area in North Hamgyong Province, which was named a free economic and trade zone in 1991.

      One speculation is that North Korea will make nice until Seoul has delivered 10,000 tons of food aid or resumes the Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong tours.

      A Cheong Wa Dae official said, "We should watch the results of the ongoing talks." If the North remains conciliatory, Seoul would have no strong justification to reject Pyongyang's offer to resume Mt. Kumgang tours, he added.

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