South Korean technicians may be allowed to stay for extended periods of time at an inter-Korean factory park in North Korea from this week to better support companies planning to reopen their factories, the government said Monday.
The plan to permit Koreans to stay overnight comes after Seoul and Pyongyang agreed on Aug. 14 to reopen the Gaeseong Industrial Complex that has been closed since early April.
Starting last week, South Korean businessmen began visiting Gaeseong in large numbers to gauge the damage and make repairs to facilities that have been idle for many months. Earlier in the day, 492 people crossed over the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas to check facilities. They will return home before nightfall.
There are 123 companies with factories in the border town, which employed over 53,000 North Korean workers before operations were suspended due to a spike in tensions on the Korean Peninsula after the North tested its third nuclear device in February.
"A situation may arise where technical personnel who maintain electricity and communication lines will start staying at the Gaeseong complex," said unification ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk.
Kim then said that both sides are in the process of reviewing proposals to set up a joint committee to run the Gaeseong complex.
The exchange of proposals comes after the two sides agreed to create a new organization to be in charge of managing the complex that in the past was effectively run by the North's General Bureau for Central Guidance to the Development of the Special Zone.
"The North sent three proposals, and we sent them two, with the government in the process of replying to the third outline forwarded by Pyongyang," Kim said.
He said the document exchanges centered on the role, composition, creation of sub-panels and creation of a standing secretariat.
The spokesman claimed there are no contentious issues between the two sides on the joint committee. He said that once an understanding is reached the first meeting of the committee will be held.
On the issue of the resumption of tours to Mount Kumgang, the official pointed out that the issue is separate from the efforts to arrange reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
"We are weighing how to reply to the North's calls for talks that will be held late this month or in early September," he said, adding that any reply will consider various developments. Seoul had originally called for the first talks on a possible resumption of the tours to take place on Sept. 25.
"The resumption of the tours will be a long-drawn process that will take time to resolve," Kim said. He said that Seoul will continue to bring up the issue of South Korean prisoners of war who have not been repatriated after the Korean conflict, and people who have been abducted and kept against their will in the North after the cessation of hostilities. These include many fishermen seized in the past by North Korean patrol vessels.
Related to the family reunions planned for Sept. 25-30, the Korea National Red Cross said that it may be able to send a list of 200 people who have expressed a wish to meet their relatives in the North.
This list will be sent to the North on Thursday. From the list, 100 people who will be allowed to travel to Mount Kumgang will be selected. A final list will be made on Sept. 16. (Yonhap News)