South Korea said Monday it will not be restrained by a timetable in resolving an ongoing row over wage hikes for North Korean workers at a joint industrial park in the North.
The two Koreas have been in dispute since the North unilaterally decided in February to raise the wage level by 5.18 percent to $74 per month starting in March for about 53,000 North Korean workers hired by South Korean companies at the GaeseongIndustrial Complex in the North's border city of the same name.
Seoul is seeking to hold talks with the North over the issue through a quasi-governmental committee as the payday for the March wages, which began Friday, will last for 10 days. None of the 124 South Korean firms have paid March wages to North Korean workers.
Seoul's unification ministry said that it will do its best to resolve the wage dispute, adding that the row may be prolonged if it passes the deadline.
"As we cannot exclude the possibility that the wage dispute cannot be settled until April 20...the Seoul government will continue to make efforts to resolve the issue," Lim Byeong-cheol, spokesman at the unification ministry, said at a press briefing.
"What's important is that the government has the will to tackle this row. We do not prejudge any situations without having a specific deadline in mind."
Seoul has not accepted the North's unilateral move, saying Pyongyang violated a 2004 agreement that calls for two quasi-government committees from each side to set the wages together. The wage cap has been set at 5 percent.
Its efforts for the talks have gained urgency as North Korea will take days off on Wednesday and Thursday to mark the April 15 birth anniversary of its late founder, Kim Il-sung.
The industrial complex opened in the early 2000s, the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation. It has served as a major revenue source for the cash-strapped communist country.
Lim also called on North Korea to stop threatening to retaliate against a move by Seoul activists to resume their campaign to send anti-Pyongyang leaflets and other materials via balloons across the inter-Korean border.
"It is not desirable for North Korea to criticize Seoul activists' leaflet launch as it is a matter of freedom of speech," Lim said. "North Korea should immediately stop making threatening remarks to South Korean people."
Despite Seoul's request for restraint, anti-North Korea activist Park Sang-hak on Thursday made an attempt to launch balloons carrying leaflets and copies of DVDs of "The Interview," a U.S. comedy film about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. His attempt was scuttled by police.
North Korea said Friday it will take "ruthless" actions against Seoul activists' move, saying that the move to send the U.S. movie to the North is tantamount to a declaration of war against Pyongyang. (Yonhap)