North seeking military talks over joint project

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North seeking military talks over joint project

North Korea called yesterday for military talks with South Korea, Seoul officials said. It was the North’s latest proposal for dialogue after months of tension. Seoul’s Unification Ministry said the North sent a message proposing talks next Tuesday to discuss problems impeding business at their Kaesong jointly run industrial estate.

South Korea has long called for the North to ease restrictions on travel in and out of the estate just north of the heavily fortified border.

The ministry said the North’s military, which controls the frontier, proposed talks on free communication, the passage of people and customs clearance.

It said the South had not yet responded to the offer. The last military talks were held in October 2008.

The two sides held civilian talks this week about developing Kaesong despite Pyongyang’s threat on Jan. 15 to cut off all dialogue.

No agreement was reached at the Kaesong talks but the delegations will meet again on Feb. 1.

The cash-strapped North has also urged discussions on restarting South Korean tours to its Mount Kumgang resort. The tours earned the sanctions-hit communist state tens of millions of dollars until they were suspended in 2008.

The South has yet to respond to that proposal, either. “Consultations are currently ongoing inside the government, and we will reply to the North when a decision comes out,” said a South Korean official.

Last week Pyongyang’s National Defense Commission, the top decision-making body, threatened to cut all dialogue and cooperation unless the South apologies for an alleged contingency plan to handle regime collapse in the North.

The commission in its Jan. 15 statement also warned of a “holy war” against the South should there be any attempt to carry out the plan.

Analysts say the North, hit harder by international sanctions following its nuclear and missile tests last year, seems willing to promote economic exchanges with the South despite political tensions.

Around 42,000 North Koreans work at 110 South Korean-funded plants in Kaesong, producing cookware, textiles, electronics and other light industrial goods.

But its operations have often been hit by political strains, with the North expelling hundreds of South Korean staff and intermittently restricting access in 2008. AFP

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