Koreas to iron out deal on S. Korean workers' rights at Gaeseong talks

By 윤민식
  • Published : Sept 12, 2013 - 15:37
  • Updated : Sept 12, 2013 - 15:37
South and North Korea will try to work out a deal aimed at enhancing the rights and safety of South Korean workers at their joint factory complex in the communist country in upcoming talks, a government source said Thursday.

Talks planned for Friday are expected to touch on issues that were not fully agreed upon during negotiations held earlier in the week. Marathon talks that ended early Wednesday yielded an opening date for the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, effectively ending the five-month-long standoff.

The factory park located in the North Korean border city of Gaeseong has been closed since early April after Pyongyang unilaterally pulled out all of its workers citing provocations from South Korea and heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The latest agreement also called for sub-committee panel talks to be held within the week to discuss issues that were not fully ironed out.

"Two sub-committee meetings touching on communications and travel, as well as rights governing people who are staying there for extended periods of time will likely be held," a unification ministry official who declined to be identified said. He did not elaborate on the details but hinted that there is a possibility that headway can be made on key issues that can lead to an agreement.

Seoul has said that in the event of a South Korean national being detained, he or she should have the right to legal counsel.

This move can allow South Korean officials to be present when the offender is being questioned by North Korean authorities.

"In past talks, the North has not rejected such calls made by the South, and since they had time to examine the proposal, we expect some sort of reply," the official said.

This right is part of the "progressive development" process that Seoul seeks for the Gaeseong factory zone, he added.

Progressive development aims to lay a firm foundation for building trust and sustainable growth in cross-border relations.

Besides workers' rights, the two sides are likely to touch on technical details related to improving communications like permitting Internet access at Gaeseong, as well as the use of incorporating radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to ease cross-border movement to and from the inter-Korean factory park.

The ministry already said that RFID and Internet access issues can be resolved within the year, although it may take a bit longer to handle the issue surrounding the mobile phone use. Mobile phone issue needs to be approved by the North Korean military.

If the two sides see eye to eye on these areas, they may be able to sign affiliated agreements when the joint management committee meets next Monday. Affiliated agreements can force the North to implement what it already promised to do in the past.

Officials engaged in talks have hinted that compared with the past, the North seems more willing to listen to proposals. This may be due to the possibility that an agreement in Gaeseong can affect upcoming talks to reopen the Mount Kumgang resort to tourism.

Seoul has called for talks to take place on Oct. 2 to discuss possibly resuming South Korean tours to the scenic mountain resort in North Korea that have been suspended since July 2008. The suspension followed the shooting death of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean guard. (Yonhap News)