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(3rd LD) S. Korea accepts Pyongyang's offer of talks on Kaesong

2013/08/07 20:15

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details, comments in paras 5-8, 12; ADDS new information in last 5 paras)

SEOUL, Aug. 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Wednesday accepted North Korea's proposal for a new round of talks next week to normalize operations at the inter-Korean factory park that has been closed for four months.

The Ministry of Unification said that the North's offer to hold working-level talks on Aug. 14, which would be the seventh round following the failure of the previous six, can be viewed in a positive light.

"Seoul views the latest talks proposal as the North responding to repeated calls for dialogue from Seoul," ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said. "We hope the North will engage in dialogue in an earnest manner that can contribute to the constructive growth of the complex." he said.

He added the format of the talks will be unchanged from the past, but pointed out that releasing details of what will be discussed cannot be made public at present.

All operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the communist country have been halted since early April after the North pulled all of its 53,000 workers from the complex amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The North's offer, which the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) made in a statement, follows more than a week of silence on Seoul's demand for "final talks" to resolve all outstanding issues surrounding operations at Kaesong.

The final talks proposal made by Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae on July 28 warned of unspecified "grave" measures that can be taken by Seoul to limit the fallout of the idle complex on South Korean companies.

In the statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the CPRK said that the two sides should work together to prevent a recurrence of the suspension of operations at Kaesong, like the one that occurred in early April. Pyongyang also offered safe passage to all people entering the complex and pledged that North Korean workers will report to work at South Korean factories. It, moreover, agreed to protect the property of all businesses at the special economic zone.

The temporary ban on operations announced by the North on April 8 will be lifted, and normal entry into the complex will be permitted, it added.

The CPRK said that the South should accept the talks offer without any preconditions so all differences can be dealt with through dialogue.

South Korea insisted the North must first give solid assurances that no closure repeats will take place if progress is to be made at talks aimed at normalizing the Kaesong complex.

Government sources, meanwhile, refuted some allegation that by accepting the latest talks proposal it may be backtracking on its previously held stance that no more talks on Kaesong can take place unless the North gives strong assurances it will not close the region unilaterally.

"Seoul accepted the latest CPRK proposal because it did not blame the South for the current impasse and did not make warnings of future arbitrary closures, which had been the North's stance in the past," said a ministry insider, who did not wish to be identified.

He specifically said the North did not warn it could still close down Kaesong if the South engaged in foul political action or carried out military provocations. Such a warning was made in the sixth round of talks held in Kaesong late last month.

The North's latest offer on Wednesday came shortly after Seoul said it would hand out 280.9 billion won (US$251.2 million) in insurance payments to 109 Kaesong companies.

The payments, which will be made starting Thursday, are seen by some as the first step the government can take toward closing down the complex that remains the last symbol of rapprochement between the two Koreas.

Once insurance money is paid, ownership of the factories and other assets in Kaesong will come under the government's control, making it that much easier for policymakers to close the factory park without worrying about protects from businesses. The government said payments to companies will proceed without disruption.

yonngong@yna.co.kr

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