South, North secretly met twice over rare earth minerals

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South, North secretly met twice over rare earth minerals

Officials from South and North Korea secretly met twice last year to discuss the joint development of rare earth resources in South Hwanghae Province, on the western coast of North Korea, the South’s state-run Korea Resources Corporation (Kores) said yesterday.

“After receiving permission from the [Ministry of Unification], our officials visited the North twice last year - in September and November - to study the condition of a graphite mine,” Kores said in a statement.

“At the time of on-going discussions, the North gave us samples of rare earth minerals dug up from the area and we conducted an internal analysis.”

According to the report, Kores officials met with their counterparts from the North’s National Economic Cooperation Federation at Kaesong Industrial Complex and had working-level talks on jointly digging up rare earth minerals in North Korea.

The federation gave four different samples of rare metals to Kores during their second meeting and after analyzing the samples, the two groups were to meet for a third time to discuss the economic benefits of developing the mine.

The sudden death of Kim Jong-il on Dec. 17, however, halted the official talks, and the two countries have not restarted negations, Kores said.

Details of the amount of rare earth minerals stored in the area have not been disclosed by Kores, but industry officials note that up to 20 million tons of rare earth metals are stored in North Korea.

The South has been actively securing supply channels to cope with shortfalls in rare earth metals, which are vital for high-tech industries including smartphones, flatscreen TVs and hybrid cars.

The Unification Ministry also confirmed the promotion of the joint project yesterday.

“We granted permission to Kores officials to visit the Kaesong Industrial Complex twice last year,” said Park Soo-jin, the ministry’s deputy spokeswoman.

“The South did receive rare earth mineral samples from the North but no further details have been discussed between the two countries since.”

At an emergency economic meeting chaired by President Lee Myung-bak in February, Kores President Kim Shin-jong is known to have reported on the project to the president, who supported the move, Kores said.

By Lee Eun-joo []
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