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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 272 (July 25, 2013)

2013/07/25 10:32

*** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS

Inter-Korean Body Opens Website on N. Korea's Mineral Resources

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A South Korean government-affiliated body on July 18 opened the nation's first website that gives a rare look into North Korea's widely untapped mineral resources.

The South-North Korea Exchanges and Cooperation Support Association said the website (www.irenk.net) will be updated monthly to provide the latest information on some 110 North Korean mines and its 24 minerals.

The Information System for Resources of North Korea will also list maps locating the communist nation's 12 major minerals, in addition to import and export figures for the metals, the group supervised by the South's unification ministry said.

North Korea is reported to be sitting on a huge pile of natural resources, with its magnesite, zinc and tungsten reserves estimated to be one of the world's 10 largest. Minerals also accounted for 57.4 percent of the nation's total exports last year, the group said.

"The potential worth of minerals in North Korea is estimated at around 7,000 trillion won (US$6.22 trillion), which is 22 times that of the South," the group said. "The Web service is expected to be highly useful for furthering our understanding of these relatively unknown minerals."

   In 2007, the group visited North Korea three times to examine the mines in South Hamgyong Province on the North's southwest.

But as relations between South and North Korea deteriorated in recent years, the group said it has been unable to make these trips and has relied on official data from the United States Geological Survey and North Korea itself.

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Koreas Agree to Meet Again without Deal on Normalization

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea failed on July 22 to find middle ground regarding the future of a joint factory park in the socialist country that has been shuttered for more than three months, but agreed to meet again later this week.

Delegates from the two sides, who met four times during the day to iron out differences, will meet on July 25 for the sixth round of negotiations, said the Ministry of Unification that handles dialogue with the North.

The two sides exchanged proposals on how to go about normalizing operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, but no agreement was reached. However, the ministry said some common ground did exist that required further deliberation.

The latest working-level meeting is a follow-up to four previous talks that failed to make progress on reopening the factory complex that is home to 123 South Korean firms. All operations at the complex came to a screeching halt on April 9, when the North, citing provocations by the South, ordered all of its 53,000 laborers not to report for work. The work stoppage has caused damages that allegedly exceed 1 trillion won (US$894 million).

In early July, the two sides agreed in principle to normalize Kaesong.

North Korea has demanded from the outset of the talks an immediate resumption of operations at the factory zone, while South Korea has insisted on securing safeguards to prevent another suspension, for which the two Koreas blame each other.

In talks held during the day at Kaesong, just north of the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas, Seoul insisted Pyongyang offer a solid guarantee that the factory will not be closed in the future. It offered a draft proposal on how such safeguards can be implemented.

Kim Ki-woong, Seoul's chief delegate, told reporters afterwards that the talks were centered on five topics.

"Safeguards to prevent another work stoppage, safety of South Korean personnel and property, transforming Kaesong into an international business complex and ways to normalize operations were exchanged," he said. The delegate added that negotiations were also carried out on whether to create a separate organization to regulate future safeguards that can make it systemically and legally difficult for the North to take unilateral actions to disrupt the industrial park.

Kim made it clear that while some headway was made, there remained considerable differences that need to be sorted out. On the other hand, he pointed out that the North held favorable views on such issues like inviting foreign companies to set up operations at Kaesong that would transform the complex into an international industrial hub.

"The greatest difference was in setting safeguards, with Seoul making clear that Pyongyang needed to offer solid promises that it will not repeat disrupting work at the complex," the official who heads the ministry's inter-Korean cooperation district support directorate said.

He stressed that it was much too early to say if a turning point had been reached in the negotiations.

In response, Park Chol-su, the North's chief delegate, hinted at the start of the talks that the leadership in Pyongyang is supportive of Kaesong's normalization. However, he raised suspicions that South Korean leaders did not share this view.

This view follows criticism raised by the North in the past few weeks that Seoul may not be sincere about normalizing Kaesong.

The joint factory park, which was created as a result of a historic inter-Korean summit in 2000, has become a symbol of inter-Korean rapprochement.

The ministry, meanwhile, said that the day's talks were carried out in an earnest manner.

It said the two Koreas took a little more time to set the date for the next meeting because both sides needed to consider various other schedules.

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South Korea Resolute on Kaesong Safeguards: Official

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea remains resolute on demanding solid safeguards to prevent a recurrence of the work stoppage at an inter-Korean factory park in the communist country, a government official said on July 23.

The Kaesong Industrial Complex has remained shut down since early April as the North unilaterally withdrew its workers from South Korean companies there amid high inter-Korean tensions. The two sides have held five rounds of talks to reopen the industrial zone, but to no avail.

The official from the Ministry of Unification, which handles dialogue with the North, told reporters that Seoul has sought from the outset to get a guarantee and set up a system to prevent Pyongyang from closing down the zone in the future.

"Getting the guarantee and transforming Kaesong into a globally competitive industrial complex have been the goal from the start, and there has been no wavering on this demand in the five previous talks to normalize the complex," said the official, declining to be identified.

He stressed that Seoul's stance on safeguards is firm and will be maintained in future talks. The sixth round of talks is scheduled to take place on July 25.

"The North needs to show sincerity on this issue because this is a matter of key interest," the official claimed.

The two Koreas have so far agreed in principle to normalize operations and some understanding were made in "internationalizing" Kaesong so foreign companies can set up operations there alongside South Korean companies.

"A total of six proposals and counter-proposals have been exchanged in past meetings, yet much more work needs to be carried out before an agreement is possible," he said.

He added that Seoul has never made unreasonable demands that Pyongyang cannot accept and that it only calls on the North's policymakers to meet international rules and respect common sense.

All operations at the complex, the sole remaining symbol of cross-border rapprochement, came to a screeching halt on April 9, 2013, when the North citing South Korea-U.S. military drills and other provocations, ordered its 53,000 laborers not to report to work.

The unilateral move is estimated to have cost the 123 South Korean companies 1.05 trillion won (US$941 million) in damages.

Related to the ongoing talks, Seoul's unification ministry stressed that they will be "no surprises" if an agreement is reached and cautioned it is too early to say if the next meeting will make headway.

(END)