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S. Korean lawmakers visit inter-Korean factory park

A group of South Korean lawmakers crossed the border into North Korea Wednesday to visit an inter-Korean factory complex in the communist country that has recently resumed operations after a five-month hiatus.

The 21 lawmakers from the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee and their 26 support staff crossed the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas at 9:30 a.m. and are slated to return around 4 p.m., parliamentary and government sources said.

The trip marks the first time for lawmakers to visit the Gaeseong Industrial Complex under the Park Geun-hye administration. Under the previous Lee Myung-bak government, lawmakers visited Gaeseong on three different occasions.

The committee said the tour is part of the ongoing parliamentary audit and will involve being briefed by the head of the Gaeseong Industrial District Management Committee and holding meetings with South Korean businessmen who have factories at the factory zone.

Rep. Ahn Hong-joon, the chairman of the parliamentary committee, said despite Gaeseong's reopening, many companies are having a hard time securing new orders and there are lingering problems related to travel, communications and customs that need to be revised. Talks on reforming rules have stalled in the face of souring relations in recent weeks.

"The point of the parliamentary visit is to support business operations and extend legislative and policy support to promote progressive development of the Gaeseong complex," the ruling Saenuri Party lawmaker said. He stressed that progressive development of the park does not simply mean turning back the clock six months and pretending their was no work stoppage that was triggered by political and military developments.

"There is a need to build trust so Gaeseong can improve cross-border ties," the lawmaker said.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, are scheduled to inspect four companies that make clothes, shoes and parts for mobile phones, and look over social infrastructure facilities such as a water treatment center, power substation, clinic and fire station.

Parliamentary sources said the visit could lay the foundation to transform Gaeseong into a international production hub.

Operations at Gaeseong, which started churning out products in late 2004, came to a screeching halt in early April amid a spike in tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

After drawn-out negotiations, Gaeseong was reopened for business on Sept. 16, but production has stayed at 80 percent of capacity with some companies hard pressed to secure new orders.

Related to the trip, the Ministry of Unification said the North has so far not confirmed who will be present to greet the lawmakers.

Judging by past experiences, the North will likely send someone from the General Bureau for Central Guidance to the Development of the Special Zone, it said.

The lawmakers were accompanied by South Korea's Vice Unification Minister Kim Nam-sik along with two working-level officials from the ministry. (Yonhap News)


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