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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 88 (January 7, 2010)

Pyongyang Wants Early Working-level Meeting for Kaesong

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has expressed a strong desire to hold an early working-level meeting to discuss pending issues on the joint inter-Korean industrial park in the North's city of Kaesong, informed sources said Jan. 3.

   Pyongyang's request was expressed to South Korean officials during their joint trip last month to China and Vietnam to find a role model for the Kaesong industrial complex.

   A source well-versed on North Korean affairs said the North Korean officials expressed their intent to hold the working-level meeting to resolve pending issues, such as wage increases for North Korean workers at the Kaesong industrial zone and the construction of a dormitory for workers.

   Other issues that the North wants to discuss include improving the working environment and constructing roads for commuters. The North also asked to resolve issues related to free border transit, telecommunication and customs clearance -- the three main items needed for smooth operation of the joint industrial complex.

   A 10-member delegation from each side completed an on-site inspection of factory complexes Dec. 22 after visiting several emerging industrial parks in China and Vietnam to find a role model for the Kaesong complex. In a debriefing on the rare mission, Seoul's chief delegate said Dec. 23 that both sides want the joint park, which opened in 2004, to become internationally competitive, although many issues remain unresolved.

   The sources said the North demanded that the South Korean officials accept their requests, as Pyongyang accepted Seoul's request to release a South Korean worker it had detained for 137 days at the Kaesong industrial park in September. The North side also said it accepted Seoul's request for lifting restrictions on transit for South Koreans to and from the industrial complex.

   South Korea's Unification Ministry officials said the North has yet to offer any working-level meeting. But the government will positively consider a working-level meeting when the North formally requests it, according to ministry officials.

   The North said that when South Korea's Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-en visited Mt. Kumgang last November, it had stated its intention to hold a meeting of authorities from the two sides to resume suspended tourism to the North's Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong.

   South Korean firms pay an average of US$80 a month to North Korean workers in Kaesong. The payments are made directly to the North Korean government. North Korea had earlier complained of low wages and land fees paid by South Korean firms at the joint park.


N. Korean Fishermen Rescued in S. Korean Waters Repatriated

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Two North Korean fishermen who were rescued earlier this week while drifting in South Korea's waters were repatriated by land Jan. 6. "The North Koreans were handed over to their side at 2:00 p.m." through the truce village of Panmunjom straddling the border, Lee Jong-joo, deputy unification ministry spokesperson, said. "The handover went smoothly."

   The men were found Jan. 3 about 48 kilometers northeast of Dokdo, South Korea's easternmost islets in the East Sea. They told South Korean authorities that they wished to go back home, according to the ministry.

   South Korea sent North Korea a message Jan. 5 asking when and how the North Koreans should be sent home. Pyongyang replied within hours.

   South Korea sent seven North Korean fishermen back to their communist homeland last month after they drifted across the Yellow Sea border off the west coast of the divided peninsula.

   North Koreans wishing to return are typically sent back through Panmunjom, which straddles the military demarcation line drawn after the 1950-53 Korean War. The war technically continues because it ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

   In a separate case, a North Korean soldier who was found drifting in a small boat on the Yellow Sea in November was repatriated after he expressed his desire to return.


Koreas Can Cooperate in Chemistry, Biotech and Nano Science

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Inter-Korean cooperation is possible in the chemistry, biotech and nano science arenas, where the technology gap separating the two countries is the smallest, a report by a state-run think tank said Jan. 6.

   The latest "Issue and Policy" report by the Science and Technology Policy Institute said North Korea has traditionally been strong in the polymer chemistry and single carbon material sectors, as well as biotech areas such as animal cloning. It has also been competitive in nano science, mathematics, nuclear technology and missiles.

   The report added that in recent years, Pyongyang has built up its competitive know-how in software, including the Linux computer operating system, as part of efforts to use science and engineering to bolster economic growth.

   The communist country operates the Korean Computer Center and Pyongyang Information Center dedicated to improving the country's software infrastructure. "Cooperation can take place in relatively new fields such as nanotech, biology and chemistry, where North Korea has traditionally been strong," the report said.

   The latest findings, however, said that because there are differences in the quality of research conducted by engineers and scientists from the two countries, cooperation should take place in stages.

   In the report, the think tank recommended that South Korea first provide assistance to upgrade North Korea's laboratory equipment and help train experts. After making inroads into these areas, Seoul can move to carry out full-fledged joint research and open laboratories where scientists from both countries can work together, the report said.