North and South Korea agree to talks on shuttered industrial complex

SEOUL — South and North Korea on Thursday agreed to hold talks over reopening a jointly run industrial park, their latest attempt at reconciliation after a period this year during which the two countries cut nearly all ties.

The meeting — proposed by South Korea and accepted hours later by the North — will take place Saturday at an administrative building just north of the demilitarized border.

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This attempt at dialogue comes three weeks after the two Koreas canceled a high-level meeting, unable to agree on who would attend.

As tensions have eased over the past three months, both nations have shown interest in dialogue but have met only once, for a contentious, 17-hour sit-down between mid-level bureaucrats.

The talks scheduled for Saturday will be of limited scope, focusing on the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a jointly operated park six miles north of the border. The complex has been shuttered since early April, when the North banned South Koreans from entering the site and pulled out its 53,000 workers.

Kaesong opened in 2004 as a symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, marrying cheap North Korean labor with small- and medium-­size South Korean companies. But many executives from those companies say they are giving up hope of resuming operations.

The Joongang Ilbo, a major South Korean daily, reported that 46 of the 123 companies at Kaesong want to remove all their materials from the complex and relocate — either in South Korea or elsewhere in Asia. Some executives fear that their machinery will become damaged from humidity or rain.

The North said Wednesday that it would allow South Korean business owners into the complex to check on their equipment. But South Korea has not allowed those owners to leave for Kaesong, saying the two governments must first work out their differences.

“Seoul’s stance remains consistent and centers on government authorities resolving all outstanding issues through dialogue,” the South Korean Ministry of Unification said in a statement.

 
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