S. Korea preps for crucial talks with N. Korea on Kaesong complex

SEOUL, July 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea prepared Sunday for another round of talks with North Korea on setting conditions for reopening a suspended joint industrial complex after the sides failed to narrow differences in two previous rounds of negotiations.

Earlier this month, the two sides agreed in principle to restart the factory park in the North's border city of Kaesong. The complex was suspended after Pyongyang withdrew all of its 53,000 workers from the 123 South Korean factories in the zone amid heightened security tensions.

The sides have since held two rounds of follow-up negotiations but failed to reach agreement on conditions for reopening the complex, with the South demanding Pyongyang take specific steps to guarantee it won't unilaterally shut down the complex again, and the North calling for an immediate reopening.

A third round of talks is set for Monday at the Kaesong complex.

The widespread view is that it won't be easy for the two sides to find a compromise as their differences are too big to narrow. Experts say this week's negotiations are crucial in determining whether the Kaesong complex could reopen.

On Saturday, North Korea increased pressure on the South to agree to a reopening.

Making public its statement sent to Seoul two days earlier, the North warned that how the Kaesong complex issue is resolved will affect the overall inter-Korean relations.

"Unless the Kaesong Industrial Complex issue is resolved, there cannot be any progress in inter-Korean relations," the North said in the statement disclosed through the official Korean Central News Agency.

South Korea will be sending a new chief negotiator to Monday's talks.

Senior Ministry of Unification director Kim Ki-woong has been named to replace Suh Ho as chief negotiator in what officials said was a routine reshuffle.

The Kaesong complex was the last-remaining symbol of once-booming inter-Korean rapprochement. It has also been a key source of hard currency for the impoverished North as South Korea usually pays the North about US$90 million annually in worker wages.

Seoul is pushing for strong safeguards to prevent another shutdown of the complex.

It is also demanding a North Korean apology for causing considerable financial and other damage to South Korean companies. The 123 South Korean companies have claimed 1.05 trillion won (US$933 million) in losses so far due to the shutdown.

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