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S. Korea rejects news report about secret talks with N. Korea

2013/08/08 16:45

SEOUL, Aug. 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's presidential office rejected as groundless a local news report Thursday that emissaries of President Park Geun-hye and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met secretly in China last week to discuss a suspended joint industrial complex.

The Naeil Shinmun newspaper reported that the talks took place Aug. 1-2 in Beijing between a key confidant of Park and an official of the North's powerful National Defense Commission headed by Kim in his capacity as its first chairman.

The paper cited an unidentified person "well versed in North Korean affairs" as saying that the secret negotiations led to North Korea's acceptance Wednesday of the South's proposal to hold one last round of talks to discuss the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North's border city of Kaesong.

But Park's office dismissed the report as "totally untrue."

   "The new government has handled everything related to the South-North relations in a transparent manner," senior press secretary Lee Jung-hyun told reporters.

The Kaesong complex was suspended in early April as Pyongyang withdrew all of its 53,000 workers from the 123 South Korean factories in the zone, blaming heightened security tensions on American-involved joint military exercises in the South.

Since last month, the two sides have held six rounds of talks on how to reopen the complex, but failed to reach an agreement, with the South demanding Pyongyang guarantee it won't unilaterally shut down the complex again, and the North calling for an immediate reopening.

While accepting the South's offer of talks Wednesday, however, the North softened its position on Seoul's demand for a guarantee of uninterrupted operations of the zone, saying the two sides should ensure normal operations "without being affected by any situation in any case."

   The North's statement brightened the prospects of the upcoming talks set for Aug. 14.

The North's statement came just hours after the South decided to provide the affected companies with a combined 280.9 billion won (US$251.2 million) in insurance payments. The decision was widely seen as a prelude to the permanent shutdown of the complex.

The zone is viewed as the last-remaining symbol of once-booming inter-Korean rapprochement. It has also been a key source of hard currency for the impoverished North, as South Korea usually pays the North about $90 million annually in worker wages.