Park asks North for a round of Kaesong talks

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Park asks North for a round of Kaesong talks

President Park Geun-hye ordered officials to propose talks to Pyongyang to allow Southern businessmen to withdraw their products and assets from the closed Kaesong Industrial Park.

During a cabinet meeting yesterday, Park told Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae, who is in charge of all inter-Korean business, to suggest to Pyongyang a bilateral negotiation so the businessmen could retrieve finished products, components and machinery stuck in the jointly run complex.

“As of yesterday, it has been 10 days since all of our workers were recalled from the Kaesong Industrial Complex,” Park said. “I really regret that North Korea didn’t keep promises [regarding the complex] and even blocked the entry of food and basic necessities into the complex, which led to the withdrawal [of Southern workers].

“I know the businessmen who invested in the complex were deeply disappointed,” she continued. “So I’m asking the Unification Ministry to propose a talk with the North Korean side in order to bring back products or raw materials that our companies left in the complex as soon as possible.”

Later that day, the Unification Ministry issued a statement in the name of its spokesman to propose working-level talks with Pyongyang.

“For our side, three representatives will attend, including the director of the exchanges and cooperation bureau,” the statement read. “We also expect the North to send some representatives, including the head of the General Bureau for Central Guidance to the Development of the Special Zone.”

“We propose to have a talk at the Peace House in our territory of Panmunjom,” it continued. “Regarding the schedule, the Northern side can advise us about it as soon as possible through any channel they want.”

Although all of South Korean workers left the industrial park on May 3, the owners of the 123 Southern firms have not been able to extract their assets.

The companies are mostly small clothing manufacturers and other light industrial products. They ship raw materials into Kaesong and manufacture products by utilizing cheap North Korean labor and bring back completed products to the South.

In order to extract their assets, the companies would have to send in vehicles and workers, but Pyongyang has not lifted its entry ban on cargo, vehicles or people from the South, which it issued on April 3.

The owners say they should at least be able to bring out completed products and unused components or raw materials.

The South Korean government paid a total of $13 million in March wages for North Korean workers and taxes owed to the North. But the South has not paid April wages for the workers, about $1.2 million, leaving the possibility open for further talks with Pyongyang.

The South continues to supply electricity to the complex.

Meanwhile, the president’s order to propose talks apparently confused the Unification Ministry, which claimed it had no such plans.

“There is no reason for us to propose a dialogue to the North first,” a high-ranking official told reporters before the president’s command. “We can even resolve the problem tomorrow if the North changes its attitude.”

After the president’s remarks were reported, the official told reporters, “We are confirming [the remarks]. We will explain it all later.”

By Kim Hee-jin []
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