Koreas kick off 6th round of talks on Kaesong park normalization

2013-07-25 01:49:45 GMT2013-07-25 09:49:45(Beijing Time)  SINA.com

South and North Korea resumed talks Thursday aimed at restarting operations at a joint factory park in North Korea, a key symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.

Working-level officials from both sides have met five times this month but with neither side showing a willingness to make concessions. No agreement has been reached on the specific conditions for the resumption of operations at the factory zone that has remained shuttered since early April.

From the outset of negotiations, each side blamed the other for the suspension of operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, with Seoul demanding firm safety measures to prevent another disruption that may have cost companies upwards of 1.05 trillion won (US$939 million) in damages.

Pyongyang has insisted on the immediate resumption of operations while skirting the issue of providing guarantees.

The Ministry of Unification, which handles cross-border relations, said some progress has been made on the issue of "internationalizing" the Kaesong park by allowing non-South Korean companies to set up factories there. At present only 123 South Korean businesses have factories at the complex located just north of the demilitarized zone (DMZ).

"The government is engaging in talks with the purpose of making sure the public will never have to worry about the Kaesong complex again," said Kim Ki-woong, South Korea's chief delegate to the talks, before crossing the border into North Korea earlier in the day.

Success of the sixth round of talks depends on whether the two sides can find a middle ground concerning the conditions of the resumption of the industrial park.

"Seoul is committed to reopening the complex yet it stands resolute on securing a guarantee that will prevent the North from unilaterally closing the complex and to get Pyongyang to accept responsibility for the current situation," said an official source, who declined to be identified. He said that whether or not the North can accept such pre-conditions will determine if the day's talks make headway.

North Korean watchers in Seoul said the latest talks may decide how negotiations will proceed in the future, predicting that if no compromise is reached, talks may lose momentum and even stall due to external factors.

South Korea and the United States plan to hold a joint military exercise in August that could cause the North to ratchet up tensions which might affect the Kaesong talks.

All operations at the Kaesong factory zone, which first started churning out goods in late 2004, came to a screeching halt in early April when North Korea withdrew all its 53,000 workers there, citing provocations from the joint Seoul-Washington military drills.

The joint factory park was created as a result of a historic inter-Korean summit in 2000.

Meanwhile, the three-man delegations began the working-level dialogue at 10 a.m. in a South Korean-built management center located in the Kaesong complex.

Seoul's delegation, headed by Kim, crossed the heavily fortified DMZ at 8:31 a.m., along with a team of support staff and reporters.

During the last round of talks held Monday, the two Koreas traded proposals and counter-proposals, yet failed to iron out differences over the industrial zone's normalization, with the gulf being greatest on the issue of setting safeguards.

(Agencies)

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