Tue, Jul 23, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Two Koreas fail again to agree on Kaesong zone

AFP, SEOUL

North and South Korea yesterday failed to agree on a framework for resuming operations at a joint industrial complex, as they wrangled over who was to blame for its shutdown.

A fifth round of talks about the Kaesong zone again ended without agreement, but the two sides will meet on Thursday, the South Korean Ministry of Unification said.

Production at the Kaesong estate has been suspended since North Korea withdrew its 53,000 workers from the complex in April at the height of soaring military tensions with the South.

Working-level officials from both sides have already met four times this month to discuss the future of the complex, established in 2004 as a rare symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.

The talks have been dominated by mutual recrimination over the cause of the shutdown, and the unwillingness of either side to be seen to make any concession to get Kaesong running again.

At yesterday’s discussions, the main sticking point between the two sides was working out a framework to prevent a future closure, the South’s top delegate, Kim Ki-woong, told reporters.

“Our position is clear that there should be a firm pledge from North Korea to prevent a closure,” he said, according to pool reports.

Yesterday’s fifth round of talks was again held in Kaesong, which lies 10km inside North Korea and which, prior to its shutdown, hosted 123 South Korean companies.

The South is insisting North Korea provides guarantees to prevent any repetition of what Seoul insists was the unilateral closure of Kaesong by Pyongyang.

The North says it was not responsible, saying that its hand was forced by hostile South Korean actions and intimidation — in particular a series of joint military exercises with the US.

After the fourth round of talks on Wednesday last week, Kim said there was “a big difference” between the parties on working out a legal framework to prevent a future closure.

The South has proposed allowing foreign firms to operate there in the apparent belief that it would make it more difficult for the North to shut down the complex at will.

North Korea wants an unconditional and early restart of operations, and both sides have accused the other of lacking sincerity in the negotiating process.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye urged the North to learn from other communist nations that have benefited by reforming their economies and adopting global codes of practice.

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