Talks on shuttered inter-Korean factory park rupture, Seoul warns it can take grave action if N.K. fails to accepts safeguards

SEOUL, July 25 (Yonhap) -- Weeks-long talks between South and North Korea aimed at reopening a shuttered joint industrial park in North Korea faced collapse Thursday, with both sides exchanging sharp accusations.

After the latest round of talks ended without progress, North Korea threatened to re-position its military at the factory park in its border city of Kaesong. The zone was opened in 2004 after North Korea had relocated its military units stationed there.

South Korea, on its part, refused to back down, warning that it will be forced to take "grave actions" unless North Korea accepts its demand for firm guarantees that the factory park will never be shut down again.

"The Kaesong industrial complex is at a crossroads," South Korea's Unification Ministry said in a news release. "In the six round of talks we have consistently made known that unilateral closure must not occur in the future and Kaesong must become 'internationalized' so it can grow."

Both delegates left the conference room at Kaesong without setting the date for the next round of talks.

According Kim Ki-woong, South Korea's chief delegate, North Korean delegates, throughout the negotiations, stuck to their position, demanding only that the industrial park, which has remained shut down for more than three months, be reopened immediately and unconditionally.

"They accepted proposals made by the South in some areas but the gulf that existed on the key safeguard issue was considerable," he said.

The industrial park was effectively shut down in early April when North Korea pulled out all of its 53,000 workers hired by the 123 South Korean plants operating there, citing the then ongoing U.S.-involved joint military exercises in South Korea.

After Thursday's talks ended without agreement, the chief North Korean delegate, Park Chol-su, put the blame on South Korea.

"If the South does not have any will to normalize the industrial park, the fate of the joint venture is clear," Park told South Korean reporters.

When asked whether he thought the talks have broken, Park said, "it is moving in that direction."

North Korea watchers in Seoul agree that chances of the industrial park opening any time soon are slim, as another major joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises are scheduled to be held in mid-August.

Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University, said that next month's Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercises will probably heighten tensions, clouding the prospect of further talks on Kaesong.

"They (North Korea) probably will not take military action, but the country may ratchet up belligerent rhetoric," he said.

Other analysts agreed, saying that failure to make progress in the latest talks could cause a loss of momentum and even stall negotiations in the worst case scenario.

"It is likely that the two Koreas will observe a cooling-off period before resuming talks," a researcher at a state-run think tank said, asking that he not be identified.

<All rights reserved by Yonhap News Agency>