South Korea demands talks to reopen Kaesong factory zone | News | DW | 25.04.2013
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South Korea demands talks to reopen Kaesong factory zone

South Korea has demanded formal talks with the North over the resumption of suspended operations at the jointly-run Kaesong factory park. Seoul warned that a refusal by Pyongyang would result in a "grave" response.

South Korea said on Thursday it had proposed formal talks for work to be restarted at the factory zone, adding that the North should respond by Friday.

"We officially propose talks between government authorities," the South's Unification Ministry Spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said at a press briefing.

"If North Korea rejects these proposed official talks, we would have to take grave action," Kim said.

The offer is the first formal attempt by South Korea to resolve the deadlock over the project, widely considered to be the only remaining channel of cooperation between the two Koreas.

In the briefing, Kim refused to describe what Seoul would do if there was no response, or a negative one, from Pyongyang. However, it is understood that South Korea may be considering a permanent withdrawal from the site, which employs about 53,000 North Korean workers at 176 South Korean companies.

Closure amid rising tensions

North Korea in April banned South Korean workers from crossing the nearby, heavily-guarded border to enter the factory and withdrew its own workers, claiming that the South Korean government had insulted it.

While it has not forced South Koreans who remain there to leave, the number of employees from the South has dwindled from about 700 to some 175.

Pyongyang closed the access having in the preceding weeks issued a steady succession of warnings to Seoul and Washington, including the threat of a nuclear strike against both.

North Korea has demanded an end to UN sanctions imposed following its most recent underground nuclear test in February and a long-range rocket launch in December, as well as an end to joint US and South Korea military drills that it has declared a provocation.

rc/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters)