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(2nd LD) S. Korea 'accepts' Pyongyang's Kaesong complex, Mt. Kumgang talks proposal

2013/06/06 15:20

SEOUL, June 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Thursday "effectively accepted" calls by North Korea to hold working-level talks between government officials aimed at normalizing stalled inter-Korean economic business ventures in Mt. Kumgang and the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

The Ministry of Unification that handles all dialogue and sets policies in regards to North Korea, said in a statement that the government views the North's latest proposal in a positive light.

"We hope (upcoming) talks will become an opportunity to help forge trust," it said. The ministry added that the agenda, date and place for the first talk will be announced later on, and said it is engaged in deliberations with the presidential office, foreign ministry and other related agencies.

Seoul's response, which came an hour after Pyongyang's surprise announcement, is expected to allow the two sides to sit down and discuss all outstanding issues that have strained cross-border relations and fueled uncertainties on the Korean Peninsula this year.

Earlier in the day, North Korea released a special statement by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK), calling for official talks aimed at discussing such issues as the normalization of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tours. The communist country has preferred private, non-governmental talks between various groups and businessmen, but Seoul had rejected such moves and made clear it will only accept government-to-government talks to resolve all outstanding issues confronting the two sides.

"We propose holding talks between authorities of the north and south for the normalization of operations at Kaesong and the resumption of tours to Mt. Kumkang on the occasion of the anniversary of the June 15 joint declaration," the CPRK statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency said.

All operations at the Kaesong complex, located just north of the demilitarized zone, came to a halt after Pyongyang ordered all of its 53,000 laborers hired by 123 South Korean companies not to report to work on April 9. Seoul countered by pulling the last of its personnel from the industrial complex, which is a symbol of cross-border cooperation. Tours to Mt. Kumgang were stopped in June 2008 after a South Korean female tourist was shot dead by a North Korean guard.

Pyongyang also said that if Seoul accepts the talks proposal, it will re-establish the Red Cross liaison channels that run through the truce village of Panmunjom, which will make it possible for the two sides to communicate with each other. The Red Cross hotline along with those operated by the military were disconnected by the North earlier in the year in response to joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises and Seoul's condemnation of the North's third nuclear test.

The communist country said talks can touch on humanitarian issues, such as allowing the reunion of families separated by the Korean War (1950-53), which have not been held for three years.

The North's committee added that it wants to hold ceremonies marking not only the June 15 declaration, but the July 4th North-South Joint Statement reached in 1972.

"We propose realizing the joint national events to mark the 13th anniversary of the June 15 declaration and jointly commemorating the 41st anniversary of the July 4 joint statement in the presence of the authorities of both sides," it said. The CPRK said that the events can take place with both government authorities and non-governmental organization (NGO) members in attendance. It repeated its calls for Seoul to allow South Korean NGOs and businessmen to visit the North, which have thus far been rejected by Seoul as a ploy to fuel internal discord in the South.

The June 15 declaration was signed between late liberal South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and his late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000, while the July 4 statement was reached under former South Korean President Park Chung-hee and North Korean founder Kim Il-sung. Park is the father of incumbent South Korean President Park Geun-hye, while Kim is the grandfather of Kim Jong-un, the current leader of the North.

The North claimed that the latest offer is consistent with its stance of promoting national reconciliation and unity and achieving reunification.

It had said that if the South Korean authorities truly want to build confidence and improve relations between the two sides, they should not miss this opportunity, but should positively respond to the decision.

Meanwhile, lawmakers from the ruling Saenuri and main opposition Democratic Party all welcomed the North's call for government-level talks.

Saenuri spokesman Rep. Yoo Il-ho, said the move can be seen as the North accepting South Korea's position on how to proceed with dialogue.

"The party hopes that talks will be held as soon as possible and hopes such a move will be the first step in forging ahead with President Park Geun-hye's trust building process that aims to ease tensions and lay the foundation of peace and prosperity," the lawmaker said.

DP spokesman Park Yong-jin said the liberal party welcomes the latest actions taken, and hopes the talks will open a new chapter in doing away with tensions that have spiked in recent months.

Besides detonating a nuclear device, the North unilaterally nullified the Armistice Agreement that halted the Korean conflict, said it will not honor its denuclearization pledge and threatened to launch nuclear attacks against South Korea and the United States.

In addition to political parties, businessmen with factories in Kaesong said they hope the latest proposal will lead to normalization at the industrial park that has been shut down for nearly two months.

yonngong@yna.co.kr

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