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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 273 (August 1, 2013)

2013/08/01 10:33

*** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS

Talks on Shuttered Inter-Korean Factory Park Rupture

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Weeks-long talks between South and North Korea aimed at reopening a shuttered joint industrial park in North Korea faced collapse on July 25, with both sides exchanging sharp accusations.

After the latest round of talks ended without progress, North Korea threatened to re-position its military at the factory park in its border city of Kaesong. The zone was opened in 2004 after North Korea had relocated its military units stationed there.

South Korea, on its part, refused to back down, warning that it will be forced to take "grave actions" unless North Korea accepts its demand for firm guarantees that the factory park will never be shut down again.

"The Kaesong industrial complex is at a crossroads," South Korea's Unification Ministry said in a news release. "In the six round of talks we have consistently made known that unilateral closure must not occur in the future and Kaesong must become 'internationalized' so it can grow."

   Both delegates left the conference room at Kaesong without setting the date for the next round of talks.

According Kim Ki-woong, South Korea's chief delegate, North Korean delegates, throughout the negotiations, stuck to their position, demanding only that the industrial park, which has remained shut down for more than three months, be reopened immediately and unconditionally.

"They accepted proposals made by the South in some areas but the gulf that existed on the key safeguard issue was considerable," he said.

The industrial park was effectively shut down in early April when North Korea pulled out all of its 53,000 workers hired by the 123 South Korean plants operating there, citing the then ongoing U.S.-involved joint military exercises in South Korea.

After the July 25 talks ended without agreement, the chief North Korean delegate, Pak Chol-su, put the blame on South Korea.

"If the South does not have any will to normalize the industrial park, the fate of the joint venture is clear," Pak told South Korean reporters.

When asked whether he thought the talks have broken, Pak said, "it is moving in that direction."

   North Korea watchers in Seoul agree that chances of the industrial park opening any time soon are slim, as another major joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises are scheduled to be held in mid-August.

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South Korea Makes Last Offer for Kaesong Talks to North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea on July 29 sent an official message to North Korea offering "final talks" to discuss the normalization of a suspended inter-Korean industrial complex in the North's border town of Kaesong.

The Ministry of Unification, which handles cross-border relations, said the message was sent via the communication line at the neutral border village of Panmunjom and was received by North Korea. It said no date or location for the talks was proposed.

"The message calls on the North to respond promptly to the talks proposal," the ministry said, adding that the North gave no response during the day and did not ask to extend the time that the communication line remains open. Ordinarily the South-North communication line is maintained from 9 a.m. through 4 p.m. The lack of response may indicate Pyongyang is taking its time to review what actions to take in response to Seoul's latest talks proposal.

The message sent follows comments made by Seoul's Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae on July 28, who called for a conclusive meeting to iron out all outstanding differences that were not resolved during the previous six rounds of negotiations held throughout the month.

The minister said if the North fails to give a clear response on the safeguard issue, Seoul will be left with no other choice but to make a "grave" decision. The official did not elaborate on what actual measures can be taken but it may entail the closure of the complex, the last remaining symbol of rapprochement between the two Koreas.

The Kaesong Industrial Complex that first started churning out products in late 2004 has remained shuttered since early April after the North unilaterally withdrew its workers from the 123 South Korean companies operating there amid heightened tensions on the peninsula. The North cited provocations by the South including insults against the dignity of its leadership and military drills.

Talks effectively broke down on July 25 with Pyongyang warning that its military can take control of the industrial park located just north of the demilitarized zone that separates the two countries.

The two sides have made little significant headway to reopen the factory zone due to preconditions for resuming operations there. Seoul has steadfastly demanded safeguards to prevent another recurrence of a unilateral shutdown, while Pyongyang has insisted on the park's immediate resumption and skirted blame for the current stoppage that is estimated to have resulted in losses up to 1.05 trillion won (US$946 million) to South Korean firms.

Related to the message, ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk told reporters that Seoul's position remains firm that the North must take actions to permit for "constructive development" of the Kaesong park to transform it into a globally competitive manufacturing center.

"Seoul's stance is that the North must make clear it will not restrict movement in and out of the complex or unilaterally pull out workers as it did in the past," he said.

The official said that the government is waiting for the "right response" by the North.

But, the North has yet to respond to Seoul's offer for negotiations on the normalization of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the socialist country as of August 1.

South Korea urged North Korea on July 31 to accept talks to establish solid safeguards against suspension to reopen the shuttered inter-Korean industrial complex in the socialist country.

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S. Korean NGOs Start Shipping Humanitarian Aid to N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean non-governmental organizations (NGOs) started shipping out humanitarian aid to North Korea on July 31 to help alleviate the plight of children and sick people in the impoverished country.

The move comes after Seoul's unification ministry approved the shipment of goods earlier in the week as a sign that South Korea is open to offering urgent humanitarian assistance to the North in spite of sanctions on the North for its nuclear device detonation in February.

The Korea Association of People Sharing Love, one of five NGOs to gain permission to ship goods, said it has ordered the shipment of bread in China for delivery to child-care centers and orphanages in Sinuiju, a North Korean border city with China.

It said other shipments of food will be made in the coming weeks. The organization was allowed to send US$46,000 worth of bread, baby formulas and nutritional supplements.

Medical Aid for Children, another charity group, said it has held a ceremony in Incheon, west of Seoul, to mark the start of its deliveries of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs.

The group said medical supplies worth 223 million won ($199,700) will be made to a children's hospital in the North.

Other groups like Green Tree Korea, Okedongmu Children and Stop Hunger said the first of their aid shipments will reach the North next month.

These organization plan to send more than 1.2 billion won worth of warm clothing, blankets, flour, powdered milk to the North in the coming weeks.

The shipments mark the first time in four months that Seoul has approved humanitarian aid to the communist country. The last shipment included tuberculosis medicine sent by the Eugene Bell foundation.

Seoul has imposed a blanket ban on shipments of goods after accusing the North of sinking one of its naval vessels near the South-North sea demarcation line in March 2010.

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