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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 262 (May 16, 2013)
*** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS

N. Korea Berates S. Korean Proposal for Talks over Kaesong Complex

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on May 15 virtually turned down a South Korean proposal for talks to return raw materials and finished products from a suspended inter-Korean industrial complex to South Korea, criticizing the proposal as a "crafty ploy" to evade domestic criticism over the complex's halt and mislead public opinion.

   "Availing ourselves of this opportunity, we (North Korea) remind the South Korean authorities once again that the prospect of the Kaesong complex and the future orientation of the North-South relations entirely depend on their attitude," an unidentified spokesperson of the North's General Bureau for the Special Zone Development Guidance said in an interview with the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). The bureau overseas the inter-Korean industrial complex, located in the North Korean border town of Kaesong.

"If the south side truly intends to normalize the operation of the Kaesong complex, it should not talk about dialogue with unessential issues such as the issue of communications and carrying out of goods but opt for settling basic issues and stop provocative remarks and confrontation racket against the DPRK (North Korea)," the spokesperson added. However, he did not specify what the "basic" issues are.

The remark is a response to a May 14 proposal by the South Korea's Ministry of Unification under the instruction of South Korean President Park Geun-hye to hold working-level talks at the truce village of Panmunjom to alleviate the ongoing plight of the 123 South Korean companies that have been forced out of the complex.

   During the meeting, Park expressed hope that Kaesong will undergo revolutionary changes toward internationalization and not only normalization. "In order for that to happen, safety devices for the promises North Korea made with the international community should be guaranteed," she said.

Operations of the companies came to a halt early April after Pyongyang ordered all of its 53,000 laborers not to report to work, citing the reports that the Kaesong Industrial Complex is a key source for the impoverished country to earn hard currency. In late April, the South Korean government decided to pullout all South Korean workers out of the complex in fear of their safety.

South Korea's latest proposal marks the third time that Seoul has called for a discussion on normalizing operations at Kaesong, which remains the only commercial link between the two sides. Launched in 2004, the complex is a combination of South Korean capital and North Korean cheap labor force.

   North Korea also upbraided the South Korean president's remarks at a Cabinet meeting where she gave the order for talks, saying they are "a crafty ploy to evade the blame for the crisis in the Kaesong complex and mislead public opinion" and "another provocative invective against the DPRK (North Korea)."

   Meanwhile, South Korea, earlier in the day, urged North Korea to accept talks to arrange the return of production materials and finished goods from the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

   "Taking into account the many changes that have occurred in the past few months, Seoul hopes the North will respond (to the dialogue proposal)," ministry spokeswoman Park Soo-jin said in a news briefing.

   The official did not elaborate on what kind of changes took place but hinted that Seoul was currently not engaged in joint military exercises with the United States that had been one reason why the North ratcheted up tensions this year.

   She added that President Park Geun-hye's remarks at the May 14 Cabinet meeting to engage the North in direct talks has given weight to the issue. The official pointed out that the topic of discussion is something the North must accept.

   "What is most important at present is for the North to come out (to the negotiating table) as a responsible member of the international community," the spokeswoman said.

   Related to the proposal, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said in a gathering of the Association for National Unification of Korea in Cheongju, 137 kilometers southeast of Seoul, that if the North wants to move down the road to peace and prosperity it must engage in talks.

   "If it stays away from the negotiating table and clings to its propaganda tactics and criticism of the South, there is little hope for improved cross-border ties," he stressed. The policymaker claimed that only by building confidence can all sides end the vicious cycle where each gain is followed by spike in tensions.

   Another official in charge of inter-Korean affairs said, requesting anonymity, that Seoul proposed the working-level talks while bearing in mind the normalization of the Kaesong complex down the road.

  (END)
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