N. Korea Proposes Talks with S. Korea on Resuming Joint Tours
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Jan. 14 proposed talks with South Korea on the resumption of joint tours to a scenic mountain and a historic border town that had been suspended after inter-Korean ties chilled in 2008.
The proposal to hold the talks on Jan. 26-27 at North Korea's Mt. Kumgang came a day after the North agreed to hold a cross-border meeting next week on ways to improve their joint industrial park in Kaesong, an ancient capital city.
Tours to Mt. Kumgang, located on the east coast, were suspended in July 2008 when a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier after straying into a restricted area near the resort. Tours to Kaesong near the west coast were also suspended in November of the same year.
Both tours had been important sources of income for the cash-strapped socialist country, which was slapped with a fresh round of U.N. sanctions for its nuclear test in May last year. It said in its New Year's Day message on Jan. 1 that its intention to improve ties with South Korea remains "unshakable."
"It is very regrettable that tour of Mt. Kumgang and the area of Kaesong has been suspended for one and a half years," North Korea said in its message to South Korea, according to its official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung confirmed the proposal was made by the Korea-Asia Pacific Peace Committee, which oversees North Korea's inter-Korean businesses dealings. Another official, who declined to be named because the proposal was under review, said his government was likely to accept it.
The proposal came after a Chinese operator of tours to North Korea reportedly relayed a message from Pyongyang this week, saying it hopes to attract more foreign tourists this year.
Under a slogan calling for the transformation of the North into a "great, prosperous and powerful nation" by 2012, North Korea said in its New Year's Day message that it will step up efforts to draw foreign revenue.
North Korea Accepts South Korea's Corn Aid Offer
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea told South Korea on Jan. 15 it will accept the 10,000 tons of corn aid that Seoul offered in October, but separately threatened to attack the South's presidential office and suspend cross-border dialogue in response to reports that Seoul has prepared for regime collapse in Pyongyang.
North Korea sent a fax message to the South saying it "will receive the corn aid," Seoul's unification ministry said. The ministry said it will take "at least a month" for Seoul to purchase corn from China and elsewhere and deliver it to North Korea.
On the same day, North Korea declared it would launch a "sacred war" against South Korea and threatened to suspend all inter-Korean dialogue, lashing out after South Korean media reported that Seoul has re-drafted plans on how deal with a political emergency in North Korea.
The warning was issued by a spokesman from North's National Defense Commission, which is chaired by leader Kim Jong-il and holds the highest authority in the country. It is the first time since its establishment in 1998 that the defense commission has spoken out on inter-Korean issues.
"(Should) the reckless provocative plan of the South Korean authorities to bring down the supreme headquarters of our revolution and the dignified socialist system be completed and (be) put into practice," the spokesman said, "there will start a sacred nationwide retaliatory battle to blow up the stronghold of the South Korean authorities including 'Cheongwadae' (the presidential office) that have led the drafting of the plan and backed it."
South Korea expressed disappointment over the outburst. "We find it deeply regrettable that North Korea took a threatening stance toward us based on some unconfirmed media reports," Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said in a statement.
Two Koreas Hold Talks on Joint Industrial Complex
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South and North Korean officials met on Jan. 19-20 to discuss ways of revitalizing a jointly operated industrial complex, but failed to set a timeline for the next round of working-level talks due to differences over wage increases for North Korean workers.
The meeting in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, a follow-up to their joint survey of industrial parks in China and Vietnam in December, marked the first official contact this year between the countries -- which remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.
"The two sides were unable to narrow their differences despite extended discussions," Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said shortly after the meeting. "The talks were extended into the night as the North Koreans stuck to their demand that wage increases be part of the agenda when the sides meet again."
North Korea has long demanded that wages for its workers at the industrial complex be raised. South Korea says other issues, including easier access to Kaesong for its workers and housing for North Korean employees, should be discussed first.
South Korean firms pay an average of US$80 a month to North Korean workers. Between June and July 2009, South and North Korea held three rounds of working-level talks to discuss a possible hike in wages and land fees paid by South Korean companies and the release of a detained South Korean worker.
A team of 16 South Korean officials crossed the heavily guarded inter-Korean border on Jan. 19, arriving in Kaesong near the west coast to rendezvous with their North Korean counterparts. Nine of them took part in the meeting held at an inter-Korean office for economic cooperation in Kaesong.
Some 110 South Korean firms operate in Kaesong, employing about 42,000 North Korean workers, one of the most symbolic outcomes of the first summit between the countries in 2000. Labor-intensive goods such as electronics, clothing and kitchenware make up the bulk of items produced in the park, whose fate came into question last year after relations between the Koreas deteriorated to their lowest level in recent history.
The latest meeting came after a 10-member delegation from each South and North Korea visited several Chinese and Vietnamese industrial complexes between Dec. 12-22 to explore ways to enhance their joint management of the factory park in Kaesong. The North focused on wage and insurance systems at the industrial parks, while the South examined infrastructure, safety issues, tax benefits and customs systems, according to Seoul's unification ministry.
In a New Year's message this year, North Korea called for an end to hostilities with the United States and described its willingness to reconcile with the South as "unshakable. It also declared its intent to improve light industries and agriculture as part of a campaign to raise the standard of living for its people.
The North's focus on its economy has intensified since the regime went ahead with the first redenomination of its currency in 17 years, a measure it said was aimed at taming inflation. Observers say the reform targeted those accumulating wealth in market activities outside state purview while assisting efforts to reassert government control over the faltering economy.