11th-Hour Contact Puts Kaesong Talks Back on Track

      August 08, 2013 09:47

      North Korea on Wednesday emerged from a 10-day sulk to propose fresh talks to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex next Wednesday.

      In a statement, the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland called for talks "without preconditions" and working together to deliver "good news to all Korean people on the occasion of Liberation Day."

      South Korea agreed immediately. Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said, "We believe North Korea has taken a forward-looking measure."

      The North offered to end the "temporary suspension" of the industrial park, allow South Korean manufacturers access, bring North Korean workers back to the complex and ensure the safety of South Korean staffers and their property.

      That essentially reverses all measures it took on April 8 blocking access to the complex and withdrawing its workers there.

      But the North called both Koreas to take responsibility for the industrial park's shutdown. "Both sides should ensure that the industrial park will not be closed again and let nothing affect normal operations of the industrial zone," it said.

      The statement comes 10 days after Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae issued a kind of ultimatum for talks and following Seoul's decision on Wednesday to clear compensation payouts for the manufacturers, which effectively would have made the closure final.

      A government official here said Seoul remains cautious. "It's still hard to believe that the North has suddenly made a complete U-turn, but we hope that in the upcoming talks it will change its attitude by taking responsibility for the suspension and pledging to prevent a recurrence."

      The government said its decision to hand out compensation payments to the manufacturers remains valid. Once the compensation is paid, a manufacturer hands over ownership of any factory in Kaesong to the government.

      Of the total 140 firms operating in Kaesong, 109 have applied for payouts of W280.9 billion (US$1=W1,118).

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