S. Korean factory managers to retrieve goods from Kaesong, N.Korea

SEOUL, July 12 (Yonhap) -- More than 170 South Korean factory managers crossed the heavily fortified border into North Korea to bring home goods and raw materials from a currently suspended jointly run industrial park in the North, officials said Friday.

It marked the first time that the North has allowed South Koreans to retrieve finished goods and supplies since April when Pyongyang withdrew its 53,000 workers from the park in anger over joint annual military exercises between South Korea and the United States.

South Korea quickly responded by pulling all of its workers from their factories in the North's western border city of Kaesong.

However, tensions have eased in recent days as the two Koreas agreed to reopen the park that had been billed as the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.

On Wednesday, the two sides failed to produce a deal on detailed measures to reopen the park, though they are set to meet again on Monday to try to resolve differences, according to South Korean officials.

A total of 174 South Koreans arrived in the park Wednesday morning to bring home goods and raw materials later Friday. They are scheduled to cross back into the South at 5 p.m., according to South Korean officials handling the issue.

"We are short on time as we have to retrieve goods in just two days," said Lee Jae-cheol, CEO of JC Com Co., a maker of optical communication devices and components, and one of the 123 South Korean companies with factories in Kaesong.

The development illustrated the willingness of South Korean factory managers to retrieve finished products and raw materials as they are unsure the two Koreas will work out the terms of reopening the park.

South Korea has called on North Korea to put forward strong safeguards against another unilateral shutdown of the park, while the North called for its immediate opening.

Last week, some factory managers called on the two Koreas for help to relocate their equipment to either South Korea or unspecified foreign countries, noting they could survive and keep business deals with buyers only if they relocate their equipment.

The factory park, an achievement of the first-ever inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang in 2000, combines South Korea's capital and technology with the North's cheap labor.

South Korean companies in Kaesong produce clothes, utensils, watches and other goods. The project serves as a key legitimate cash cow for the impoverished communist country.

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