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Seoul urges N.Korea to accept talks to reopen Kaesong park

2013/07/31 13:50

SEOUL, July 31 (Yonhap) -- South Korea again urged North Korea Wednesday to accept talks to establish solid safeguards against suspension to reopen the shuttered inter-Korean industrial complex in the communist country.

The North has not responded to Seoul's "final" offer this week for working-level negotiations to implement guarantees to prevent a recurrence of the work stoppage at the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

The halt in operations has resulted in losses exceeding 1.05 trillion won (US$940 million) for the 123 South Korean companies operating at the North Korean border city, according to some estimates.

"The North (so far) gave no response through official communication channels that run through the neutral border village of Panmunjom," ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk told reporters.

The official said the North must show sincerity and willingness to change its stance on the safeguards issue.

In the six round of talks carried out in July, the two Koreas agreed in principle to resume operations at the Kaesong complex located just north of the Demilitarized Zone, but they made no headway on how to go about preventing another closure of the complex that is a major symbol of inter-Korean rapprochement.

The spokesman said that the lack of response to the dialogue offer at the moment cannot be construed as rejection, although he hinted that Seoul can take "grave" action down the line, without elaborating what that entails.

Seoul has said that establishing firm safeguards that would make it impossible for the North to suspend operations there -- either by restricting movement to and from Kaesong or by pulling out its workers as it did in April -- is a key prerequisite to the resumption of operations.

Pyongyang has countered that it cannot give safeguards demanded by the South because the North is not solely to blame for the current impasse, demanding that Seoul must agree to reopen the industrial zone as soon as possible.

North Korea observers in Seoul, meanwhile, said that government will probably not wait indefinitely for the response. They added that Pyongyang's silence may be a sign that it has effectively rejected the plan, especially since the North will not be in a position to engage in talks once the Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) joint military drill with the United States takes place in mid-August.

In the past, the communist country denounced the annual military drills and steered clear of negotiations when such maneuvers were being carried out.

"With companies at Kaesong running out of time and the UFG exercise just around the corner, talks may not be easy next month (August)," said Yang Moo-jin, a political science professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

Many Kaesong-based textile firms have said that unless they win orders by the end of August, they will have no work for the first half of next year. Reopening their factories after the deadline, therefore, can be meaningless to many businesses there.

Yang said that once Seoul views the North's silence as a rejection of its talks offer, the South will move to cut off power and water reprocessing, and demand compensation for the losses incurred.

yonngong@yna.co.kr

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