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Koreas start 3rd round of talks on future of joint industrial park


SEOUL, July 15 (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea began their third round of working-level talks on Monday to discuss the future of an inter-Korean industrial complex.

The latest round of negotiations on Monday at the North Korean border city of Kaesong follows talks carried out last Wednesday in which the two sides were unable to produce a deal on detailed measures to reopen the factory zone.

Earlier this month, the two Koreas had agreed in principle to normalize operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which have been halted for more than three months.

All operations at Kaesong, north of the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), were halted after Pyongyang unilaterally withdrew all its 53,000 workers hired by the 123 South Korean plants there on April 9. The North had cited as a reason for its decision heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula caused by the South.

The South Korean Ministry of Unification said the talks between representatives from the two sides began at 10:08 a.m. on Monday with Seoul and Pyongyang making known their views on how to normalize operations so regular business can resume. The South Korean delegation led by Kim Ki-woong crossed the DMZ at 8:30 a.m.

South Korea has stressed that negotiations should focus on arranging internationally acceptable safeguards to keep the joint factory complex running without being affected by political and other noneconomic developments, ministry officials said.

In addition, Seoul has asked the North to acknowledge its responsibility for the current impasse and insisted on changes to the existing rules on communications, passage and customs inspections governing the industrial park.

Local experts predicted that it may be difficult for the communist country to admit responsibility for the closure of the factory park, which had been the most visible symbol of cross-border reconciliation.

Unless the North changes its current stance and accepts calls made by the South, the latest talks may fail to make headway and become a long-drawn affair, they said.

The North has countered that Seoul is to blame for the work suspension by fueling tensions on the Korean Peninsula that it said were caused by U.S.-involved South Korean military drills at the time and that full-fledged operations at Kaesong must resume as soon as possible.

The complex, which started churning out products in late 2004, was created as a result of a historic 2000 summit meeting between then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Before the halt of its operations, Kaesong had been an important source of revenue for the cash-strapped North.

Related to the negotiations, 159 South Korean businessmen representing 49 textiles and stuffed goods firms along with 52 support personnel from utility companies and officials from the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee crossed the inter-Korean border at 9 a.m. into the complex to check on their facilities and bring back finished goods and other production materials.

Under the deal reached between the two Koreas on July 6-7, the North said it will guarantee safe passage of South Korean businessmen into Kaesong. South Korean companies have started bringing back products and some manufacturing equipment on Friday.

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