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2009/12/03 11:42 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 83 (December 3, 2009)

  
*** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS

Koreas to Hold Joint International Survey for Kaesong Park

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea will send a joint survey team to China and Vietnam in December in a bid to find an international model that can help develop their shared industrial park, Seoul's Unification Ministry said Nov. 26.

   The joint trip, set for mid-December, may be a sign that the North intends to continue its conciliatory diplomacy toward South Korea despite recently unleashing a spate of harsh criticism against the Seoul administration.

   "Our government expects this joint survey will contribute to forming an inter-Korean consensus for developing the Kaesong industrial park," ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said in a press briefing.

   North Korea recently agreed to hold the 10-day international survey, which was proposed by the South in June after payment disputes arose over the joint park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, Chun said.

   The joint trip would be a watershed for the Kaesong park, whose future has been uncertain amid deteriorating inter-Korean relations. South Korean firms operating there had considered pulling out after the North sealed cross-border traffic several times and detained a South Korean worker in what appeared to be a protest against the conservative Seoul government.

   North Korea shifted to a more conciliatory stance in August, reaching out to Seoul and Washington for dialogue and lifting restrictions on inter-Korean business ventures.

   But North Korean media recently resumed vitriolic criticism of Seoul, pointing to its prolonged suspension of a lucrative North Korean mountain tour and its participation in a U.N. resolution condemning the North's human rights conditions. The North called South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek, who is in charge of inter-Korean relations, a "traitor" impeding cross-border relations.

   Businesses operating in Kaesong welcomed the joint survey, expecting it will help build mutual trust and make the inter-Korean venture internationally competitive.

   North Korea earlier complained of low wages and land fees paid by South Korean firms at the joint park, which opened in 2004.

   The ministry said South and North Korea will use a team of about 10 people on each side for the survey. The inspectors will look into incentives for foreign investors, as well as customs processes and other systems at industrial parks in China and Vietnam that can be used as barometers for the Kaesong venture, it said.

   Seoul hopes to continue joint surveys in Central Asia, the United States and other advanced countries.

   The Koreas made a similar trip before relations chilled in 2007, during which seven officials from both sides toured industrial facilities in China and Vietnam.

   The joint park, a major result of the historic first inter-Korean summit in 2000, currently hosts 116 South Korean firms employing more than 40,800 North Koreans. Factories there produce mostly labor-intensive goods such as electronics, clothing and kitchenware.

   The average monthly wage for a North Korean worker there is about $80. The venture's total output last year was $251 million.

  
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N. Korean Soldier Returns After Accidentally Crossing Sea Border

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A North Korean soldier rescued earlier this week by the South Korean Navy was repatriated Dec. 2 through the truce village straddling the Koreas.

   The army sergeant was rescued on Nov. 29 in the Yellow Sea when his boat drifted south of the maritime border. Officials say he was fishing before he crossed the Northern Limit Line (NLL).

   The soldier expressed his desire to return to his country, according to the U.S.-led U.N. command in Seoul. On Dec. 2, the soldier returned through the Panmunjom Village in the Demilitarized Zone that separates the Koreas, a South Korean defense official said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

   The rescue came as tension persisted in the Yellow Sea, where the navies of the Koreas engaged in a skirmish last month for the third time in a decade.

   North Korea refuses to honor the NLL that has served as a de facto maritime border with South Korea since their 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire.

   Accidental crossings of the maritime border are rare. In August, North Korea returned four South Korean fishermen after weeks of detention for accidentally crossing the NLL in the East Sea.

  
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Civic Group Sends Charcoal Aid to North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A South Korean civic group sent humanitarian aid of charcoal briquettes to North Korea on Nov. 25 for the first time since the North conducted its second nuclear test in May. Seoul suspended a shipment of relief aid to North Korea after Pyongyang's atomic bomb test on May 25.

   Coal Briquette for Neighborhood, a civilian relief group helping North Koreans by sharing briquettes, said it sent 50,000 briquettes to the Mt. Kumgang region on North Korea's east coast via the cross-border land route.

   The organization also shipped 50,000 briquettes to the North's border town of Kaesong the next day, the first such aid since the North's nuclear test.

   Despite the nuclear test and missile firings, South Korea has intermittently provided medical supplies and other humanitarian aid to the Kaesong region, where South Korean businesses operate a joint industrial complex by employing North Korean workers.

   The civic group earlier promised to deliver 500,000 coal briquettes each to the Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong regions by the end of this year. But it only shipped 350,000 briquettes to Mt. Kumgang area and 250,000 to Kaesong region as of Dec. 2.

   The civic group supplied some 900,000 briquettes to the Kaesong area and 970,000 to Mt. Kumgang region last year.

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