Mon, Apr 20, 2009 - Page 1 News List

North, South Korea to meet after year’s hiatus

AFP , SEOUL

South Korea and North Korea will hold talks this week about a Seoul-funded joint industrial estate — their first face-to-face government contact after a hiatus of more than a year, officials said yesterday.

The meeting, to be held in the North’s border city of Kaesong tomorrow, comes amid tension over Pyongyang’s repeated threats since its defiant April 4 rocket launch.

Pyongyang, which cut all direct contact with the South’s conservative government early last year, offered to hold talks “concerning the Kaesong industrial zone,” Seoul’s unification ministry said on Saturday. The ministry yesterday accepted the North’s offer.

It was not clear precisely what the North wanted to discuss about the industrial estate, which lies just over the border in the North.

A South Korean delegation will leave for Kaesong tomorrow, ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said yesterday.

The estate opened in 2005 as a symbol of reconciliation but has been hit by souring ties since South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in February last year.

In December, the North restricted border crossings and expelled hundreds of South Korean managers from the zone.

On March 30, a South Korean employee at Kaesong was arrested for allegedly criticizing the North’s communist regime and trying to persuade a woman to defect. He remains in custody and Seoul says access to him has been denied.

Some analysts say the North is likely to warn tomorrow that the Kaesong estate and all other inter-Korean ties will be cut indefinitely if Seoul joins a US-led initiative to curb trade in weapons of mass destruction.

Pyongyang repeatedly warned on Saturday that Seoul’s participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative would be regarded as a declaration of war by the South.

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