Seoul officials inspect Kaesong complex

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Seoul officials inspect Kaesong complex

A 14-member South Korean delegation led by Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung visited the North Korean border town of Kaesong on Friday to review an industrial park that was shut down in February 2016 and held working-level discussions with North Korean officials about opening an inter-Korean liaison office there.

The visit fulfills one part of a declaration signed by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in after their first summit on April 27. In the Panmunjom Declaration, the two countries agreed to establish a liaison office at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in order to “facilitate close consultation between the authorities as well as smooth exchanges and cooperation between the people.”

The industrial park was the last vestige of inter-Korean economic cooperation before the South Korean government pulled out in February 2016 following North Korea’s ballistic missile test and nuclear experimentation earlier that year. The delegation’s visit on Friday made it the first time that South Korean officials entered the complex since it was shut down.

The Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North, made clear that the office was unrelated with any attempts to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Any economic projects with North Korea, officials stressed, hinge on the progress it makes toward denuclearization.

Vice Minister Chun was accompanied by an official from the Blue House; three from the Gaeseong Industrial District Foundation, a state-backed agency that handles administrative affairs for the industrial park; two employees from the telecom company KT; two from Hyundai Asan, an arm of the South Korean conglomerate Hyundai Group that used to be involved in numerous North Korean projects; and five support staff.

The group crossed into the North through the South Korean customs office in Paju, Gyeonggi, and arrived in Kaesong at 9:30 a.m., according to the Unification Ministry. They toured the area until 4:30 p.m. with five North Korean officials, including Hwang Chung-song, a senior official from the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, a cabinet-level department in North Korea that oversees relations with the South.

The North Koreans were “very cooperative,” the ministry said, as the South Korean delegation checked telecommunication systems and offices at the industrial complex. The facilities “appeared to be stable” overall, the ministry said, save for the basement floors of two places that suffered some equipment damage.

A liaison office in Kaesong is one of the first projects that both Koreas have started preparations for under the Panmunjom Declaration.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, who led a South Korean delegation in a high-level meeting with the North last week, said both countries agreed to open the office at the earliest convenience.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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