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KAESONG, North Korea, July 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea called on North Korea Wednesday to put forward strong safeguards against another unilateral shutdown of an inter-Korean industrial complex that has remained idle for three months.
Seoul's demand came at a working-level meeting held in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, which is a follow-up to weekend talks at the neutral border village of Panmunjom where the two sides agreed in principle to normalize operation at the joint venture.
All operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex near the heavily fortified inter-Korean border ground to a halt after Pyongyang unilaterally withdrew its 53,000 workers hired by the 123 South Korean plants there on April 9.
In the keynote speech at the morning session of the meeting that ran for 25 minutes from 10:35 a.m., South Korea's chief representative Suh Ho outlined South's plans for "constructive development" of the joint venture. He pointed out that for Kaesong to grow it must become a "safe" place to do business and where free business activities are guaranteed.
"The South wants the North to announce solid actions that will convince everyone that it has no intention of taking unilateral action to prevent movement or pull out its laborers in the future," he said.
The official, the director of the exchange and cooperation bureau at the Ministry of Unification, also said that there is a need to allow foreign companies to invest in the park and to transform it into an international industrial region.
"Pyongyang must take responsibility for its actions that caused considerable damage to South Korean companies with factories at the border town," he said.
In response, the North avoided touching on who was responsible for the suspension of operations, and called for both sides to respect the spirit of the 2000 inter-Korean summit that laid the foundation for the complex to be created.
North Korea's chief representative Park Chol-su, the vice director, of the General Bureau for Central Guidance to the Development of the Special Zone, said both sides should desist from taking actions that affect normal operations at the complex, and that inspection of facilities needs to be completed so operations can resume as soon as possible.
The unification ministry said the 23-member South Korean delegation crossed the demilitarized zone at 8:30 a.m., with authorities saying problems with the communication line caused the start of talks, originally slated for 10:00 a.m., to be delayed.
South Korea has stressed from the outset that the negotiations should focus on arranging internationally acceptable safeguards to keep the joint factory complex running without being affected by political and other noneconomic developments.
North Korean watchers had predicted that the South's position may be hard for North Korea to accept because it would amount to the communist country admitting responsibility for the closure of the factory park, the most visible symbol of cross-border reconciliation between the two countries. The North has been demanding for some time the immediate resumption of operations, and expressed concerns over the impact the suspension will have on industrial facilities and materials at Kaesong.
Related to the negotiations, 60 businessmen representing mostly electricity and electronics companies along with 36 support personnel from utility companies and the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee, crossed the border at around 9:00 a.m. to check their production facilities. Sources accompanying the delegation said factories looked clean on the outside, although the complex as a whole looked unattended.
They are to inspect facilities and take inventory of finished goods and raw materials that can be used to make products at the complex.
Under the deal reached on Sunday, the North will guarantee safe passage for the businessmen and permit the retrieval of finished goods and other production materials that have been left at Kaesong.
Meanwhile, a ministry official said making headway at the talks may be challenging, cautioning that negotiations may become a long-drawn affair involving several meetings.
It is hard to tell when Wednesday's working-level talks will end, but businessmen will return within the day after concluding with their inspections, the official said, adding a second group of businessmen from other countries will visit Kaesong on Thursday.
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