Koreas start talks on reopening joint industrial factory

Story highlights

  • Talks are held on the North Korean side of a neutral border village
  • The joint industrial complex at Kaesong closed in May amid increasing tensions
  • Some $2 billion worth of goods have been produced in Kaesong since operations began in 2005

North and South Korean officials started talks Saturday on reopening the Kaesong industrial complex, a suspended joint factory that marked a symbol of cooperation between the two rivals.

Each side sent a delegation of three members to Tongilgak, the South Korean Unification Ministry said.

The administrative building is on the North Korean side of the neutral border village of Panmunjom.

Kaesong, which is a bellwether of the two rivals' ties, was closed this spring -- a casualty of increasing tensions between the two sides.

The agreement to hold talks came after North Korea conceded a demand by the South that contact between the two governments should precede visits to plants in the complex by business people, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported.

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Pyongyang had originally invited business people from South Korean companies to return to the zone to check on their facilities and equipment.

    The talks "were in consideration of the damages to the companies operating in Kaesong after three months of suspension and the beginning of monsoon season," said Kim Hyung-suk, a spokesman for the South Korea's Unification Ministry. "The Kaesong issue can only be resolved through dialogue by government authorities."

    The operation was completely shut down in May when the last remaining South Korean workers left the facilities, but work had been winding down for about a month amid heightened tensions. In April, North Korea restricted South Korean workers' access to the zone. Workers had to leave when supplies such as food, water and raw materials were cut off.

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    The North-South tensions seemed to be easing somewhat after Pyongyang agreed to high-level talks with the South in June. Those talks were called off at the eleventh hour after disagreements over the level of the delegates who would represent each side.

    On Wednesday, North Korea also restored the Panmunjom communication hotline with the South, which had been cut off repeatedly over the past four months.

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    "North Korea is probably feeling an unprecedented level of diplomatic isolation with pressures coming from the international community. It is also fully aware of the value of the Kaesong industrial complex, which provides a considerable amount of hard foreign currency," said Kim Tae-woo, former president of the Korea Institute for National Unification.

    "But stirring tensions, then going back to dialogue, is part of North Korea's usual tactics. We don't need to attach too much weight to this easing of tension," he added.

    North Korea already had barred South Korean workers from entering the complex before May. In 2008, access was restricted after a human rights group distributed propaganda leaflets via balloon into North Korea. South Korean workers were blocked again in 2009 during an annual U.S.-South Korean military drill.

    Some $2 billion worth of goods have been produced in Kaesong between initial operations in 2005 and the end of 2012, according to the South Korean Unification Ministry.

    The average wage for North Korean workers in Kaesong Industrial Complex is $134 per month, according to the South Korean ministry. North Korean authorities take about 45% of their wages for various taxes.