Kaesong talks still active as complex reopens

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Kaesong talks still active as complex reopens

Seoul announced late Friday that the two Koreas had made progress on easing entry and customs regulations for South Koreans going into and out of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which will be reopened today after a five-month hiatus.

The Ministry of Unification, which oversees inter-Korean relations, said in a statement that the North had agreed to ease customs and travel measures by allowing South Korean managers and workers to enter the border city at any time of the day without imposing fines.

Previously, North Korean authorities had required people from the South to cross the border at a specific time and with prior scheduling.

The ministry also said the North-South subcommittee on communications, entry and customs had agreed to allow South Korean workers to verbally report their possession of small items such as mobile phones when they entered the border city, rather than having to submit a written list of such items. A larger communications issue - the use of the Internet and cell phone services at the complex - remained unresolved, the ministry said, at least in part because the meeting was at the subcommittee level and without the authority to make major decisions.

The ministry said the two Koreas will continue discussions about setting up Internet service at the joint complex and allowing managers and workers to use mobile phones. Seoul hopes to establish Internet access at the joint park within this year, believing that doing so will encourage foreign companies that have a presence in the South to invest in the border city complex.

The tentative agreement Friday on easing customs measures came only three days before the resumption of the Kaesong complex’s operations today, which will restore the crown jewel of the first meeting of South and North Korean leaders in June 2000. The complex was shuttered five months ago, April 9, when Pyongyang unilaterally withdrew its 53,000 laborers from the complex.

Pyongyang cited military provocations from Seoul and also said it had been insulted by news reports predicting that it would never be able to afford to pull the plug on the park because of the foreign exchange it earned there.

The two sides reached an agreement on Wednesday after a marathon 20-hour round of negotiations on a timetable to reopen the complex today. The agreement is another sign of a thaw in inter-Korean relations that has been noted recently.

The third round of committee talks on Internet service, the use of mobile phone and other subjects related to operations at the park will also be held today as the factories resume operations.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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