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Thursday September 12, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Thursday September 12, 2013 MYT 7:40:49 AM
SEOUL: North and South Korea have agreed to reopen the jointly-run Kaesong industrial park on a trial basis from next Monday, five months after it was shut down during soaring military tensions.
The reopening date was settled after a marathon 20-hour negotiating session, and marks a tangible step forward for recent efforts to improve cross-border relations.
“The institutional foundation has now been laid for Kaesong to develop into an internationally competitive and stable industrial complex,” the South’s Unification Ministry said in a statement yesterday.
The two sides agreed that operations at the South-funded complex that lies 10km over the border in North Korea would “resume on a trial basis from Sept 16”, it said.
Born out of the “sunshine” reconciliation policy initiated in the late 1990s by then-South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, Kaesong was established in 2004 as a rare symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.
It provided an important hard currency source for the impoverished North through taxes, other revenues, and its cut of workers’ wages.
It had appeared immune to previous downward spirals in North-South relations, but finally fell victim to two months of intense military tensions that followed the North’s nuclear test in February.
Pyongyang initially barred South Korean entry to the park in early April and shortly afterwards withdrew its entire 53,000-strong workforce – effectively closing down the complex, which houses production lines for 123 South Korean firms.
Each side blamed the other, with the North insisting its hand was forced by hostile South Korean actions – in particular, a series of joint military exercises with the United States.
As military tensions eased, the two Koreas agreed last month to work together to resume operations at the zone.
As part of the deal, the North accepted the South’s demand that Kaesong be opened to foreign investors – a move seen by Seoul as a guarantee against the North shutting the complex down again in the future.
Seoul had pushed for compensation for the companies hit by the closure, and the two sides appeared to reach a compromise – agreeing to waive taxes for the firms this year.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency confirmed an agreement had been reached but offered no details beyond the Sept 16 re-opening date.
Analysts stressed that Kaesong would remain a vulnerable project despite whatever safeguards are reached.
“This agreement offers no real guarantee that Kaesong will be insulated from political upheavals and military tensions in the future,” said Yang Moon-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
“Even the 1953 armistice is easily violated – that’s the reality on the Korean peninsula,” Yang said. — AFP
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