Reopening of inter-Korean factory park to hinge on safeguards

SEOUL, Aug. 13 (Yonhap) -- Success of this week's negotiations to reopen a suspended inter-Korean factory park will depend on whether headway is made on the critical safeguards issue that Seoul maintains are needed to prevent future work stoppages, local sources said Tuesday.

The predictions come as the two Koreas will huddle for a fresh meeting Wednesday to decide the fate of the Kaesong Industrial Complex that has sat idle since early April, following six rounds of talks that drew a blank in July.

The meeting, coming nearly three weeks after the last negotiation, is widely seen as representing the last chance the two sides have to overcome their existing differences.

"The talks are critical with emphasis to be centered on an understanding being reached on the creation of solid safeguards to prevent the kind of developments that occurred in March and April," an official at the unification ministry, who declined to be identified, said.

He pointed out that success of the talks will be determined in large part by the will of the North to respect and follow through on the promises it makes as well as the safeguards it accepts.

"The current impasse occurred not because there are no rules preventing the North from taking unilateral steps, but Pyongyang's unwillingness to follow them," the official stressed.

He guarded against some upbeat media reports that hinted that an agreement could be reached by stressing that people should approach the inter-Korean talks in an impartial manner and not be swept up by rhetoric.

There has been growing speculation that a breakthrough may be possible this time around because the North so far has maintained a "positive attitude" and showed aggressiveness to resolve the current situation.

Pyongyang has intentionally not alluded to its previous claims that both the South and North must take responsibility for the suspension of operations at Kaesong. It, moreover, insisted on Seoul refraining from taking political and military actions that were cited by the North as the deciding factor behind its decision to pull out its workers from the complex in early April.

Private analysts, meanwhile, said that although the North has shown more restraint and repeatedly made clear its intent to resolve the Kaesong complex issue, it must still not try to skirt the safeguards issue.

"If the North rejects Seoul's stance that the North is responsible for halting Kaesong in the first place and does not give the kind of guarantee being demanded, then negotiations may bog down once again," a researcher at a state-run think tank said.

He added that judging by the government's staunch position it will probably not accept "vagueness" on the safety issue.

In addition, other North Korea watchers speculated that the start of the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) next Monday can further complicate negotiations. The North, although making almost no mention of the joint South Korea-U.S. military exercise at present, may call on the UFG to be halted if talks snag. Such a call will never be accepted by Seoul, and this can lead to more tense cross-border relations.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Unification said that of the 109 companies that had initially asked for coverage under the special inter-Korean insurance policy, five are in the process of receiving a combined 18 billion won (US$16.1 million) for damages, with the rest waiting to see the outcome of the talks.

Seoul had already approved the release of 280.9 billion won in insurance payment to the companies with factories and assets in the Kaesong complex. Once payment is made, ownership of assets will go under the government. Such a development is seen as the first step in Seoul's move the shut down the complex.

The government already said it can take "grave" measures unless the North accepts safeguards and pledges that it will never close down the factory park in the future.

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