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S. Korea resolute on Kaesong safeguards: official

By 김정보

Published : July 23, 2013 - 14:22

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South Korea remains resolute on demanding solid safeguards to prevent a recurrence of the work stoppage at an inter-Korean factory park in the communist country, a government official said Tuesday.

The Gaeseong Industrial Complex has remained shut down since early April as the North unilaterally withdrew its workers from South Korean companies there amid high inter-Korean tensions. The two sides have held five rounds of talks to reopen the industrial zone but to no avail.

The official from the Ministry of Unification, which handles dialogue with the North, told reporters that Seoul has sought from the outset to get a guarantee and set up a system to prevent Pyongyang from closing down the zone in the future.

"Getting the guarantee and transforming Gaeseong into a globally competitive industrial complex has been the goal from the start, and there has been no wavering on this demand in the five previous talks to normalize the complex," said the official, declining to be identified.

He stressed that Seoul's stance on safeguards is firm and will be maintained in future talks. The sixth round of talks is scheduled to take place on Thursday.

"The North needs to show sincerity on this issue because this is a matter of key interest," the official claimed.

The two Koreas have so far agreed in principle to normalize operations and some understanding was made in "internationalizing" Gaeseong so foreign companies can set up operations there alongside South Korean companies.

"A total of six proposals and counter-proposals have been exchanged in past meetings, yet much more work needs to be carried out before an agreement is possible," he said.

He added that Seoul has never made unreasonable demands that Pyongyang cannot accept and that it only calls on the North's policymakers to meet international rules and respect common sense.

The North, citing South Korea-U.S. military drills and other provocations, had ordered its 53,000 laborers not to report to work, effectively halting operations. The unilateral move is estimated to have cost the 123 South Korean companies 1.05 trillion won (US$941 million) in damages.

Related to the ongoing talks, Seoul's unification ministry stressed that they will be "no surprises" if an agreement is reached and cautioned it is too early to say if the next meeting will make headway.

North Korea watchers in the South, meanwhile, speculated that the next round of talks may be the last real opportunity to resolve outstanding issues before political developments disrupt talks at least in August.

Pyongyang is expected to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice Agreement that falls on Saturday with a huge military parade, while Seoul is planning another joint military drill with the United States next month.

The Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) is one of the two joint military drills South Korea and the United States have been staging annually to test and improve their defense posture against the North.

Pyongyang warned over the weekend that if the UFG is carried out, relations on the Korean Peninsula could be strained to the breaking point.

"The two Koreas have not been able to bridge the gap on how best to prevent a recurrence of the work stoppage, which makes it unlikely that an understanding will be reached soon," said Yang Moo-jin, a political scientist at the University of North Korean Studies. Others speculated that there may be a lull in the talks for several weeks, but the negotiations may drag on for some time.

Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University, said even if the two sides cannot make headway, neither side wants to be seen as breaking off the talks.

"The talks serve a political purpose so there is a chance they will continued to be held," the scholar said. (Yonhap News)