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(LEAD) S. Korea urges N. Korea to accept proposal for talks on Kaesong

2013/08/04 16:57

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details of spokesman's statement, background in last 6 paras; MINOR EDITS in para 6)

SEOUL, Aug. 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korea called on North Korea Sunday to accept its week-old proposal for talks on reopening a suspended joint industrial park, saying the South Korean people are reaching the limit of their patience.

"If North Korea truly considers the Kaesong Industrial Complex to be a touchstone of inter-Korean relations, it shouldn't stay silent but demonstrate its will through responsible words and actions," Kim Hyung-suk, a spokesman of Seoul's Ministry of Unification, said in a statement.

The call comes a week after Seoul proposed a seventh round of talks on reopening the complex in the North's border city of Kaesong.

North Korea has yet to respond to that offer.

"Our people, who wish to see North Korea's sincerity, are reaching the limit of their patience," the spokesman said.

Operations at the Kaesong park ground to a halt in early April when North Korea withdrew all its 53,000 workers from the zone amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Previous rounds of talks on reopening the complex have broken down due in part to Seoul's insistence on safeguards against another unilateral shutdown of the factory park. Pyongyang has demanded an immediate reopening of the complex.

In delivering its "final offer" for talks last week, Seoul warned it could take "grave" measures if Pyongyang does not guarantee such safeguards.

The ministry's announcement sparked speculation that Seoul could be close to completely shutting down the complex that has survived as the last-remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation.

The joint project was a key outcome of the first-ever inter-Korean summit in 2000 and produced clothes, utensils, watches and other labor-intensive goods through the combination of South Korean capital and technology with cheap North Korean labor.

The four-month suspension has led to 450 billion won (US$401 million) in damages to the invested assets of the 123 South Korean companies at Kaesong and 300 billion won in operating losses, among other damages, Kim said.

Meanwhile, the South Korean government paid North Korea $13 million in unpaid wages and extended 80 billion won worth of loans to South Korean businesses suffering from the suspension, he said.

The government also expects to pay an additional 280 billion won in insurance payments to the companies, he added.

"Basically, this problem arose from the North's unilateral decision, so North Korea should take responsible measures to compensate the firms for their losses," the spokesman said. "It isn't right to wait indefinitely and blindly. We proposed working-level talks between the governments, and we expect North Korea to respond with sincerity."

   hague@yna.co.kr

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