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Koreas to square off on safeguards for Kaesong park

2013/07/24 13:26

SEOUL, July 24 (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea are expected to square off on how to establish safeguards to prevent a recurrence of work stoppage at a joint inter-Korean industrial complex in the communist country, the government said Wednesday.

The Kaesong Industrial Complex has remained shut since early April as the North unilaterally withdrew its 53,000 workers from South Korean companies there, citing U.S.-involved joint naval exercises in South Korea.

The two sides have met five times this month but made little progress, other than to agree in principle to reopen the factory park located just north of the Demilitarized Zone. The next talks are scheduled for Thursday.

Seoul has remained resolute on getting solid guarantees from the North that it will not unilaterally close the complex down. Pyongyang has balked at such a request and called for operations to resume immediately.

Reflecting the South's stance, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk told reporters that every effort will be made in the next round of talks to reach agreement on the "constructive development" of the factory zone.

The government has said constructive development must encompass operational safeguards and understand that the industrial park will be run in accordance with common sense and international standards.

"In addition, Seoul wants ongoing talks to set new standards for cross-border relations," the official said.

Others in the ministry that handles dialogue with the North stressed that the key factor in current talks lies with the communist country showing sincerity toward accepting proposals that can ensure companies at Kaesong to operate without fear of disruption in the future.

The current stoppage is estimated to have cost the 123 South Korean companies 1.05 trillion won (US$942 million) in damages.

Some experts forecast that the next round of talks could well be the last opportunity to make headway.

"Failure to make progress can cause a loss of momentum and even stall negotiations in the worst case scenario," a source, who declined to be identified, said.

He pointed out that with South Korea and the United States gearing up for another military drill in August, there is not a lot of time left to make a breakthrough. The North has said that holding the upcoming Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) will worsen the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

"If the North escalate tensions, talks on Kaesong can be suspended," he claimed.

The UFG is one of the two major joint military drills South Korea and the United States have held annually since the 1970s. North Korea has routinely denounced them as war preparations against it.