North and South Korea close to reopening Kaesong factory park


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The Independent Online

North and South Korea today moved closer to reopening a jointly run factory park, raising hopes for an improvement in ties between rivals that were trading war threats this spring.

There was no word about when operations might resume, but the Koreas' meeting, while not conclusive, can be considered progress after six failed rounds of talks, the last of which ended in a scuffle.

The industrial complex in North Korea's third-largest city, Kaesong, had been the last symbol of cooperation between the Koreas until Pyongyang halted operations during a torrent of threats earlier this year that included vows of nuclear strikes on Washington and Seoul.

The Koreas released a statement saying they will "actively" make efforts to help South Korean companies repair facilities and resume operations at Kaesong.

Chief South Korean delegate Kim Kiwoong indicated cautious optimism, saying the joint statement was "not the end but a beginning" and that it was difficult to say exactly when the park might be reopened, according to South Korean media pool reports.

In an unexpected twist, both countries said they want to attract foreign companies to the park and would allow it to have internet and mobile phone connections if operations resume.

Kaesong's lack of internet and mobile connections frustrated South Korean factory managers who relied on landline phones and faxes to communicate with the South. North Korea has a domestic mobile phone service and intranet which are walled off from global networks.

North Korea has been trying to attract foreign investors in other free economic zones but no major progress has been reported. It is uncertain whether any foreign companies would be willing to brave Kaesong. The park's reputation has been tainted by the four-month shutdown, which caused losses for the South Korean companies with assembly lines at the complex.

The industrial park combined South Korean initiative, capital and technology with cheap North Korean labour. It was also a rare source of hard currency for North Korea, though the impoverished country chafed at suggestions that it needed the money Kaesong generated.

The statement today said North and South Korea agreed to soon launch a joint committee meant to carry out their agreement.