N. Korea invites S. Korean bizmen, officials to talks

SEOUL, May 28 (Yonhap) -- In what appeared to be a conciliatory move, North Korea on Tuesday invited South Korean officials as well as businessmen for talks on reopening a suspended joint industrial complex in its territory.

The joint industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong remains shut down since early April when the communist country withdrew all of its 53,000 workers hired by 123 small-size South Korean factories operating there.

South Korea has since proposed working government-level talks to try to reopen the factory zone but North Korea has turned it down, demanding that Seoul should first address more fundamental issues such as joint military exercises with the U.S.

On Tuesday, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, the North's arm for dealing with cross-border affairs with Seoul, said that Pyongyang is willing to start talks on the future of the industrial complex.

In a statement issued by its unidentified spokesman, the committee noted that North Korea has already approved a plan by the South Korean business representatives to visit the industrial complex for maintenance and other purposes.

"We have given permission for the visit and can even discuss the shipment of products at the industrial complex," it said, adding that if the South Korean entrepreneurs visit the North, discussions can be made on the normalization of the complex.

The North's committee said it will fully guarantee safe passage of all South Koreans who would cross the border for the visit.

"If the South feels uneasy, it can send members of the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee with the businessmen," the statement said.

South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, was cautious in assessing the North's move, saying that government-level talks should be held first. It said business representatives have no authority to discuss the matter.

In a separate statement, the North's committee criticized Seoul for banning the proposed joint civilian celebrations of the upcoming anniversary of the historic June 15, 1980 inter-Korean summit.

"The participation of South Koreans in the event must be permitted and if Seoul is fearful of the gathering triggering internal discord, it can send government officials with the group," it said.

Pro-unification civic activist groups from both Koreas had jointly marked the anniversary almost every year since the historic inter-Korean summit until a conservative government took office in Seoul in 2008.

The sitting South Korean government of President Park Geun-hye barred this year's joint civilian celebration of the anniversary, saying that it could create discord among South Koreans.

The two Koreas, which remain divided since 1945, are in a state of conflict, as they did not sign a peace treaty at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

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