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North Korea lifts ban on joint industrial complex with South

August 07, 2013|By Jung-yoon Choi
  • A South Korean who runs a factory in the joint Kaesong industrial complex between North and South stands outside military barricades set up on Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunjom.
A South Korean who runs a factory in the joint Kaesong industrial complex… (Lee Jin-man / Associated…)

SEOUL -- North Korea lifted a ban in place since April at a joint industrial complex it shares with South Korea and agreed to talks with the South next week on normalizing operations.

Nine days after South Korea's "last call" for negotiations over the Kaesong complex, Pyongyang proposed talks on Aug. 14 in Kaesong through its Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, the country's organization that deals with South Korea. 

It said it would allow Southern enterprises to reenter the region and guaranteed the return of the North's 53,000 workers.

"If the complex breaks now, we cannot fathom the hurt it will inflict on everyone in the North and the South, and its effect on the North-South relations," the agency said.

South Korean officials responded immediately, expressing hope for serious talks that would contribute to the growth of the complex.

Kaesong combines South Korean capital and technology with cheap labor from the North. North Korea withdrew its workers during a sharp downturn in relations with the South and its allies that included a steady stream of war-like messages from Pyongyang.

South Korea has been seeking guarantees from the North that it won't unilaterally close the complex. Efforts to lift the North's ban failed last month. Talks ended tensely, with Pyongyang saying it was willing to turn Kaesong into a military base. 

Seoul's Unification Ministry says the four-month suspension has resulted in  hundreds of millions of dollars in losses to 123 South Korean companies. The government had said it would begin making payments to companies that have claimed operating losses, a move regarded as a step toward a complete shutdown.

North Korea responded on Wednesday.

"We will guarantee the safety of South Korean personnel in the zone while thoroughly protecting the companies' assets," the North Korean agency said.

Experts have said they doubt North Korea would permanently close Kaesong because it is one of the legacies of late leader Kim Jong Il. Kim was succeeded in 2011 by his son Kim Jong Un.

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