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(LEAD) S. Korea to offer 'final talks' with N. Korea on Kaesong park

2013/07/28 16:35

(ATTN: ADDS more details, background info in paras 5-8, 10-14, photo; RESTRUCTURES)

SEOUL, July 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea said Sunday it will extend a "final offer" for talks to North Korea to discuss the normalization of a suspended inter-Korean industrial complex in the North's border town of Kaesong.

The Kaesong Industrial Complex has remained shuttered since early April as the North unilaterally withdrew its workers from South Korean companies there amid heightened tensions on the peninsula.

The two sides have held six rounds of negotiations to reopen the factory zone, but to no avail as they failed to agree on preconditions to resuming operations there. Seoul has demanded safeguards to prevent any recurrence of a unilateral shutdown, while Pyongyang has insisted on an immediate resumption.

"The government will make a final proposal for talks with North Korea to discuss (the Kaesong complex issue)," Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said in a statement.

The offer will be made "through the border village of Panmunjom tomorrow," the minister said, adding that the proposed talks are "in line with the working-level meetings" held over the past several weeks.

Calling on the North "to give a clear answer" to Seoul's call for its pledge to prevent a recurrence of the suspension, Ryoo said its failure will leave Seoul with "no other choice but to make a grave decision," as companies with factories in Kaesong are suffering from ballooning losses.

He, however, did not elaborate on the time element of the scheduled talks and what the government's "grave" measure will entail.

Ryoo's statement echoes last week's unification ministry statement issued after another breakdown in inter-Korean talks that warned Pyongyang that unless positive measures are taken, South Korea will be obliged to take "grave" action, without providing details.

The closure of the complex by the North's withdrawal of all its 53,000 laborers in April is estimated to have caused up to 1.05 trillion won (US$935 million) in damages to the 123 South Korean companies with factories in the industrial zone.

"The government has a firm will to make future-oriented inter-Korean relations based upon principles and with respects for each other," Ryoo said, urging the North to make "the right decision for the normalization of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and inter-Korean relations."

   The complex that first started production in late 2004 came out of a historic inter-Korean summit held in 2000 and had been a symbol of rapprochement between the two Koreas.

Stressing its stance to push for humanitarian support regardless of the political situation, the minister also said the government will "approve five civic organizations' humanitarian aid to North Korea and support projects for infants there pushed by UNICEF," citing the U.N. Children's Fund.

Seoul last approved a shipment of humanitarian aid in March by Eugene Bell, a South Korean charity group, to North Korea. It was the first assistance from Seoul to Pyongyang since the inauguration of President Park Geun-hye in February.

North Korea has suffered casualties and financial damages from recent heavy rains that reportedly killed 28 and displaced nearly 3,000 from their homes.