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Safeguards key to normalization of inter-Korean factory park: official

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

SEOUL, July 26 (Yonhap) -- Safeguards to prevent another work stoppage are key to reopening the shuttered inter-Korean factory park in North Korea, an official at South Korea's presidential office said Friday.

Bilateral talks aimed at reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex effectively broke down Thursday after the two sides collided on how to prevent any unilateral closure of the business zone that has remained idle since early April.

Seoul has been asking for the North to guarantee it won't block operations due to non-economic reasons and called on the communist country to accept responsibility for the current situation.

The North countered that work must begin immediately, and that it cannot take sole responsibility for the current impasse. Pyongyang also said it will not interfere with Kaesong operations in the future if Seoul promises not to provoke the North politically or engage in hostile military actions.

The official, who declined to be identified, said Seoul will stick to its principles on how to go about reopening the complex.

"Safeguards to prevent another halt in operations and constructive development of the complex are a clear principle (that must be set)," he stressed. The official added that such a stance is the kind of common sense the public can understand and accept.

The remarks by the official reiterate Seoul's position that the North must accept these preconditions if the Kaesong complex is to start making products again. Constructive development encompasses the creation of legal and administrative systems that can help run the complex and introduce standards of operations that meet international standards.

South Korea's Ministry of Unification, which handles cross-border dialogue, already warned Pyongyang that unless positive measures are taken, Seoul will be obliged to take "grave" action. It did not elaborate on what actions may be taken but hinted that it could be linked to the closure of the factory park.

Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk told reporters that Seoul still considers the complex as a touchstone for inter-Korean relations and will strive to convince the North to change its posture.

He called on the North to seriously contemplate changing its attitude toward providing firm assurances.

"Seoul's demand for safeguards and development is not something that the North can reject and is within the realm of common sense that adhere to international practices (of running a factory park)," he said. The official pointed out that implementation of such measures can raise the global competitiveness of the complex.

Related to the breakdown in dialogue, the North lashed out at the South for its "bad attitude" and warned negotiations for restarting the Kaesong park faced collapse.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the North's official news wire service monitored in Seoul, argued that the South employed obvious "delaying tactics" at the six round of talks held this month, and it must be held accountable for the state of negotiations that have made little headway.

"The South claimed Pyongyang is solely to blame for the suspension of operations at Kaesong and even mentioned compensation for losses that can only be deemed as being rude one-sided demands," the KCNA said. "Seoul cannot escape blame for all the fallout that a breakdown in negotiations will bring."

The North proposed additional working level talks that involved the military to facilitate movement of personnel and materials, communications and ease customs inspections, it said, adding the involvement of the military is needed because people and materials must cross over the demilitarized zone guarded by troops from the two Koreas.

It also said the North proposed the creation of panels to cover all issues raised by the South.

The current closure of the complex triggered by the North ordering all of its 53,000 laborers not to report to work on April 9 caused up to 1.05 trillion won (US$944 million) in damages to the 123 South Korean companies with factories at the industrial zone.

The special business zone that first started making products in late 2004 was created as a result of the historic South-North summit meeting held in June 2000 and is viewed as a symbol of rapprochement between the two Koreas.

Meanwhile, the government said it will hold another meeting with related ministries to find ways to sell finished products and production materials companies were able to retrieve from the complex earlier in the month.

Official sources said such moves can alleviate the plight of companies to some extent while Seoul looks into what addition support can be available to them since it is unlikely that the complex will reopen in the near future.

The government has already pledged to offer low interest loans, tax breaks and waivers on utility charges for companies with factories at the joint venture.

Representatives of Kaesong companies have complained that despite numerous announcement of aid very little assistance has reached them.

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