Agence France-Presse
SEOUL, 7 JULY: North and South Korea today made a crucial step forward in winding down months of high tension, agreeing to reopen a joint industrial zone seen as the last remaining symbol of cross-border reconciliation.
The deal follows months of friction and threats of war by Pyongyang after its February nuclear test attracted tougher UN sanctions, further squeezing its struggling economy.
At the end of a gruelling 15-hour talk, the two sides said in a joint statement that they had agreed to let South Korean firms restart their shuttered plants at the Kaesong complex near the border when conditions are ripe.
“The South and the North will let business companies at Kaesong resume operation when (they are) ready to do so,” said the joint statement.
The two sides will meet again on Wednesday to discuss details over reopening the zone, including a demand from Seoul that the North guarantees it will never again unilaterally shut down the estate.
The North, however, will likely find it hard to accept such a demand as it would amount to Pyongyang accepting full responsibility for the suspension.
The complex ~ built in 2004 about 10 km north of the border as a rare symbol of inter-Korea cooperation ~ had previously remained largely resilient to turbulence in relations.
But the North, citing military tensions and Seoul’s hostility, pulled out all its 53,000 workers from the 123 Seoul-owned factories in April, prompting the South to withdraw the managers of around 120 companies in early May.
After signing the agreement, Suh Ho, Seoul’s chief delegate for the latest talks, said the North’s officials had appeared “very enthusiastic” in negotiations to rescue the complex ~ a valuable source of hard currency for the impoverished communist state.
Neither side declared the complex officially closed, instead referring to a temporary shutdown, while blaming each other for its suspension. “I’ve got an impression that the North was making very active efforts to solve the issue of the Kaesong complex,” Mr Suh said. Under the agreement Seoul businessmen will be allowed to cross the border to check on their facilities at Kaesong from Wednesday.