Koreas agree to reopen joint zone


Suh Ho (left), head of the South Korean working-level delegation, shakes hands with his North Korean counterpart Park Chol-Su after their talks at the Tongilgak on the North Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas on Sunday. AFP PHOTO

SEOUL: North and South Korea on Sunday made a crucial step forward in winding down months of high tension, agreeing to reopen a joint industrial zone seen as the last remaining symbol of cross-border reconciliation.

The deal follows months of friction and threats of war by Pyongyang after its February nuclear test attracted tougher United Nations sanctions, further squeezing its struggling economy.

At the end of gruelling 15-hour talks, the two sides said in a joint statement that they had agreed to let South Korean firms restart their shuttered plants at the Kaesong complex near the border when conditions are ripe.

“The South and the North will let business companies at Kaesong resume operation when [they are]ready to do so,” said the joint statement.

The two sides will meet again on Wednesday at Kaesong to discuss details over reopening the zone, including a demand from Seoul that the North guarantees it will never again unilaterally shut down the estate.

The North, however, will likely find it hard to accept such a demand as it would amount to Pyongyang accepting full responsibility for the suspension.

The complex—built in 2004 about 10 kilometers (six miles) north of the border as a rare symbol of inter-Korea cooperation—had previously remained largely resilient to turbulence in relations.


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