Inter-Korea panel holds first meet on industrial park

SEOUL (AFP) - North and South Korea held the first meeting on Monday of a committee tasked with reopening their Kaesong joint industrial zone - five months after it was shut down amid soaring military tensions.

The committee, comprising five officials from each side, sat down for talks in Kaesong at 10am (9am Singapore time), with the initial agenda focused on the timing for reopening the complex.

"We will try our best to reinvent Kaesong as an internationally competitive industrial complex where our firms can operate with no worries and foreign businessmen would also like to come," Mr Kim Ki Woong, the head of the South's delegation, said before leaving Seoul.

Established just over the North Korean side of the border in 2004 as a rare symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, Kaesong had come through previous crises on the Korean peninsula unscathed.

But in April, as tensions flared following the North's third nuclear test, Pyongyang effectively shut down operations by withdrawing the 53,000 North Korean workers employed at the 123 South Korean plants.

The two Koreas agreed last month to work together to resume operations at the zone, which is an important source of hard currency for the cash-strapped regime in Pyongyang.

As part of the agreement, the North accepted the South's demand that Kaesong be opened to foreign investors - a move seen by Seoul as a guarantee against the North shutting the complex down again in the future.