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South and North Korea agreed Wednesday to reopen their troubled joint factory park after Pyongyang promised not to shut it down again "under any circumstances," a joint statement said.
The two Koreas also agreed to "internationalize" the Kaesong industrial park in the North's border city of the same name by hosting foreign investors, a proposal broached by Seoul to make it more difficult for North Korea to take any action against the park, according to the five-point statement issued at the end of the day-long negotiations.
Both sides, however, fell short of agreeing when to reopen the zone that has been idle since early April. They said only that the reopening would depend on how soon more than 123 impacted South Korean companies complete maintenance checkups on their facilities there.
A joint committee will be set up to supervise the future operation of the factory park and other related issues, including compensation for impacted South Korean plants, it said.
"Once the joint committee is set up and inspections and the refurbishment of manufacturing facilities takes place, companies will be allowed to go back to the complex and start operations," said a unification ministry official who requested that he not be identified.
He said the joint committee will be staffed by officials from both sides who have been involved in the day-to-day operations of the factory park.
"It will be, in effect, an extension of the working-level talks and will jointly run the industrial complex," he said.
The joint complex has been closed since early April when the North pulled out all of its 53,000 workers from the South Korean factories operating there, citing rising military tensions.
President Park Geun-hye, in comments made public through her spokesman Lee Jeong-hyun, welcomed the breakthrough and hoped that the agreement would be the "starting point for new South-North Korea relations."
Kim Ki-woong, the chief South Korean delegate, said he was satisfied with the outcome of the negotiations but cautioned against too many expectations, saying that the agreement should be taken as "the beginning rather than the end of everything."
Other gains earned through the talks include the North's promise to discuss free movement of people to and from Kaesong, allowing use of the Internet and mobile phones and the easing of customs clearance, he added.
South Korean owners of the plants in Kaesong also welcomed the agreement.
"It was a long wait, but companies plan to do their best to normalize operations," said Ok Sung-seok, head of None Mode, an apparel company with a production facility in Kaesong.
Moon Chang-seop, co-chairman of the Corporate Association of Kaesong Industrial Complex, said the agreement has injected new life into Kaesong.
"It is a relief that an agreement has been reached, but many machines and facilities are in disrepair. A lot of repair work should be done," he said.
Meanwhile, ruling and opposition parties also welcomed the breakthrough.
Rep. Yoo Il-ho, the spokesman for the ruling Saenuri Party, said the agreement is a result of a principled but flexible government approach to the issue.
Main opposition Democratic Party spokeswoman Bae Jae-jeung praised the deal, saying that concessions made by both sides kept the worst case scenario from materializing.
She said that Seoul and Pyongyang now need to start talks on other pending issues, such as the proposed resumption of a cross-border sightseeing tour to the North's famed Mount Kumgang and reunions of separated families on both sides.
The two issues were not discussed during Wednesday's meeting, although both sides had previously said negotiations can start on those projects once the Kaesong standoff is resolved.
Source: Yonhap News (Aug. 14, 2013)