PAJU, South Korea: North and South Korea began talks on Wednesday on reopening a jointly run industrial zone, with tensions running high over the shuttered complex which is seen as the last remaining symbol of cross-border reconciliation.
South Korean delegates met their Pyongyang counterparts in North Korea for the sensitive meeting aimed at restarting the Kaesong complex’s mothballed factories. The two sides remain far apart over who was to blame for the closure.
The fresh talks follow a rare weekend meeting in which the two nations agreed in principle to reopen Kaesong, which shut down three months ago as relations between the frosty neighbors hit crisis point.
A vehicle convoy of about 130 South Korean delegates, support staff and factory owners passed through the heavily fortified de-militarized border zone that underscores the ever-present tension between two nations, which remain technically at war. Their 1950-53 conflict ended in a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty.
The vehicles were outfitted with bright red flags, following key border rules aimed at preventing an accidental shooting.
The once-buzzing industrial zone which had previously remained largely resilient to turbulence in relations—had the air of a ghost town, with factories and convenience stores shuttered and dark, traffic signals off and North Korean workers plucking overgrown weeds from the sidewalk outside the 15-story building where the talks were being held.
As the talks got underway, South Korea’s chief delegate Suh Ho hailed the meeting as “one of the first steps towards trust.”
“I hope that we will be able to exchange good ideas to revive the Kaesong industrial complex in a progressive way,” he told reporters.
His North Korean counterpart, Pak Chol-Su, had more immediate concerns, saying: “I am really worried about the state of the factories’ machines.”
The Kaesong complex, which was built in 2004, sits about 10 kilometers (six miles) inside North Korea. The South Korean-funded site, built as part of a diplomatic bid to improve cross-border relations, was a key source of hard currency for the impoverished North.