North Korea remained silent on South Korea's proposal for final talks to reopen a suspended joint industrial park for a fifth day on Friday, sparking speculation that Seoul might be forced to take "grave" measures.
The factory zone in the North Korean border city of Kaesong has remained shuttered since early April when Pyongyang withdrew all its workers amid heightened inter-Korean tensions. The Koreas have held six rounds of talks aimed at normalizing the complex, but to no avail. Seoul delivered the last overture on Monday.
The Ministry of Unification, which handles inter-Korean relations, said the communist country did not send any messages to the South regarding the dialogue offer when contact was made at 9 a.m. and again at 4 p.m. via the inter-Korean communications line that runs through the neutral truce village of Panmunjom.
"No reply has been received up till now, and the government's stance is to refrain from determining why the North is remaining silent on the talks proposal," said ministry spokeswoman Park Soo-jin.
She added that Seoul is currently awaiting the North's response and does not want to elaborate on the possible deadline and what actions it may take down the road.
With Pyongyang remaining silent, there is growing speculation that Seoul may be compelled to take "grave" measures.
Policymakers have not elaborated on what actions will be taken, but they may shut off all power and water to the complex, which the South supplies to the park, analysts said.
The government can moreover decide to ask the North for compensation for damages incurred, and this can be followed by measures that could lead to the eventual closure of the park, they added.
South Korea still sends some 3,000 kilowatts of electricity to the complex on a daily basis and runs water purification pumps that provide 15,000 tons of clear water to North Koreans in Kaesong.
The previous talks have fallen through as both sides were divided over preconditions for resuming operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the last remaining symbol of South-North rapprochement.
South Korea has insisted that Pyongyang must give solid guarantees that it will not take steps to close the complex again, while the North rejected such demands and called for the park's immediate resumption. The communist country also warned that its military may take control of the complex if no agreement is reached.
The shutdown of the factory park, which first started churning out products in late 2004, has so far cost the 123 South Korean companies with factories in the park upwards of 1.05 trillion won (US$933 million).
Reflecting the calls by companies to assist in selling their finished goods and production-related materials brought out from Kaesong last month, the ministry said a task force has been set up to come up with the best way to achieve that aim.
South Korean companies with factories in Kaesong had brought back products from July 11-19 after being barred access to their factories for three months, but they have had trouble selling these "out of season" materials on the market.
The spokeswoman added that a special counseling center will start work on Friday at the ministry to listen to grievances and formulate policies accordingly. Many companies have asked for advice on how best to cope with the work stoppage.
The official, meanwhile, said the South-North Korea Exchange and Cooperation Council is reviewing insurance claims made by many Kaesong companies.
"This process of checking documents and claims will be carried out until Monday, and once completed, the council can move past a resolution so insurance money can be paid to companies," she said.
The spokeswoman also said that exactly how the council will decide on the payments issue cannot be determined at present. A maximum of 272.3 billion won can be paid to companies which have taken out insurance policies in the past. If there are no snags, payment can begin next week.
Once companies receive their insurance payments, ownership of the factories and other assets will be taken over by the state-run Export-Import Bank of Korea. (Yonhap News)