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Firms urge normalization of Gaeseong industrial complex

Representatives from more than 100 South Korean companies running factories in the Gaeseong industrial complex Tuesday urged the South and North Korean governments to resume talks for an early normalization of the factory park.

At the end of a hurriedly-convened meeting in Yeouido, central Seoul, the companies also called on South and North Korea to allow them to dispatch their factory managers to the industrial park to check on the production facilities.

The statement came a day after the South Korean government gave Pyongyang an ultimatum to hold talks to put the halted factories back on track.

The operation of the industrial park in the North has been suspended since April due to tension between the two Koreas.

The Gaeseong companies expressed doubt over whether the government’s top priority was normalization of the complex or not, asking the government to have more flexibility in handling the issue.

“In the latest talks, the North accepted most of the requests by the South except an assurance that it would not unilaterally close down the complex. The South Korean government should have tried more in light of the bigger picture to reach an agreement, instead of raising tension by issuing an ultimatum,” a company official was quoted as saying in the news conference.

On Sunday, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae made a final proposal for talks to the North, hinting at a preference for ending the inter-Korean project unless the North accepted the proposal. A formal proposal was sent to Pyongyang on Monday.

“If the government considers a permanent closure of the complex an option, it has to develop measures to compensate the loss of companies in the complex the first,” the statement said.

In a desperate effort to keep their faltering businesses in the North afloat, corporate leaders also asked the government to allow staff responsible for production facility check-up and maintenance to enter the North as soon as possible.

According to the ministry, 123 South Korean companies, most of which are shoe and clothing makers, run factories in Gaesong. The companies have already lost 1.05 trillion won ($935 million) due to the halt of their production lines in the North. Seoul insists that Pyongyang must recognize responsibility for the losses caused by its unilateral decision to bring production to a standstill.

By Seo Jee-yeon (