North Korea says it wants to reopen joint industrial zone with South

S. Koreans from Kaesong-based companies rally at Imjingak peace park in Paju near border with N. Korea on August 7, 2013.

Story highlights

  • Seoul agrees to hold talks with the North on Kaesong complex next week
  • North Korea says it will allow South Koreans to return to the joint industrial zone
  • It had suspended operations at the industrial zone in April during tensions
  • South Korea had expressed frustration recently at the impasse over the zone
North Korea pledged Wednesday to take steps to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Zone, the joint manufacturing complex where it halted the operations of South Korean companies during a period of high tensions this year.
The announcement from the North is its latest move after multiple rounds of talks with the South, aimed at getting the shuttered factories at Kaesong back up and running, failed to yield a breakthrough last month.
Seoul responded to Pyongyang's statement Wednesday by agreeing to fresh negotiations on the complex next week.
North Korea's decision in April to suspend activity at the industrial zone, a key symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, for the first time in its nine-year history surprised many observers.
With 53,000 North Koreans working at more than 120 South Korean companies, Kaesong was considered to be an important source of hard currency for Kim Jong Un's regime.
But for about four months, the zone, which sits on the North's side of the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas, has lain dormant.
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In its statement Wednesday carried by state media, North Korea said it would allow South Korean companies to return to the manufacturing complex. Pyongyang began preventing South Koreans from entering the zone in April at a time when it was unleashing a torrent of threatening rhetoric toward South Korea and the United States.
The tensions have since eased, and the generally secretive North recently allowed a large Western media contingent, including CNN journalists, to cover the 60th anniversary of the armistice that stopped the Korean War in 1953.
The North also said Wednesday that it would ensure "the normal attendance of its workers" at the South Korean companies' factories, as well as guaranteeing the safety of South Korean personnel in the zone.
The North Korean statement said that if South Korea responded to its "bold and magnanimous stand," it would hold another round of talks next week on returning operations at the zone to normal.
"We are looking forward to reaching an appropriate measure for resolving the Kaesong issue," the South Korean Unification Ministry said in a statement accepting the offer of talks.
On Sunday, the South suggested that time for finding a solution on Kaesong might be running out.
"The patience of our people, who wish to see North Korea's sincere attitude, is reaching its limit, and North Korea should bear that in mind," said Kim Hyung-suk, a Unification Ministry spokesman.
The South Korean government has been working on measures to compensate the companies hurt by the shuttering of the industrial zone.
On Wednesday, before the North Korean announcement, the South's Ministry of Unification said it had authorized the equivalent of about $250 million in insurance payments to firms with activities linked to the zone.