A ray of hope to reopen Kaesong park still blinking

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A ray of hope to reopen Kaesong park still blinking

Although the Kaesong Industrial Complex has been effectively closed with the return of all Southern workers Friday, the power and water is still on and the two Koreas have agreed on more talks about the complex.

The last remaining seven South Koreans - five government officials and two KT workers - returned across the Demilitarized Zone Friday after ending weeklong negotiations with the North over unpaid wages and taxes.

The South sent in cash to pay $7.3 million in wages owed to the 53,000 North Korean workers for March, $4 million of income taxes owed to the North Korean regime, and $1.7 million in telecommunication costs and waste disposal fees.

The two sides also agreed to have further negotiations for an additional $1.2 million of wages for the North Korean workers for April.

South Korea has asked for talks on restoring communication hotlines between the two sides. And the owners of the 123 South Korean companies in Kaesong want negotiations on being able to remove their remaining raw materials and supplies from the complex.

It was the first time since the complex started operations in December 2004 that no South Koreans were in the zone, a symbol of the “Sunshine Policy” of engagement.

After the North imposed an entry ban on all Southern people and vehicles on April 3, the businessmen have not been able to send any vehicles across the border to bring their materials back to the South. The businessmen say the raw materials are worth 300 billion won ($273 million).

The Pyongyang regime asked Seoul not to cut off electricity and water supplies.

According to the Ministry of Unification, the state-run Korea Electric Power Corporation had transmitted 100,000 kilowatts of electricity to a substation located in Kaesong from a substation in Paju, Gyeonggi, in the South. State-run K-Water has also built a reservoir nearby that supplies 60,000 metric tons (15.8 million gallons) of water to the complex every day. The electricity and water also reportedly are used by residents of Kaesong city.

The reservoir and water supply system are maintained by North Korean workers.

A Unification Ministry official also told reporters that the South Korean government proposed resuming hotlines at the inter-Korean village of Panmunjom and some military communication lines that have been cut off unilaterally by the North since March 27.

“We proposed to resume the Panmunjom channels and the military hotlines to the North,” the official said. “We will continue a dialogue with the North and negotiate the matter of the April monthly wage that the North demanded.”

As of yesterday, Pyongyang didn’t send any response to a proposal for further talks regarding the military hotlines.

However, North Korea made a positive gesture saying the reopening of the industrial complex “depends on the attitude of the South.”

An unnamed spokesman of the National Defense Commission, the top military decision-making body of the North, told the official Korean Central News Agency yesterday that the South “should stop all of the hostile acts and military provocations against us” if it wants to resume operations at the complex.

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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