Koreas fail to agree on reopening Kaesong complex

Head of the South Korean working-level delegation Kim Ki Woong (right) speaks with his North Korean counterpart Park Chol Su during their talks at the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee in Kaesong on Monday, July 22, 2013. North and Sou
Head of the South Korean working-level delegation Kim Ki Woong (right) speaks with his North Korean counterpart Park Chol Su during their talks at the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee in Kaesong on Monday, July 22, 2013. North and South Korea on Monday failed to agree on a framework for resuming operations at a joint industrial complex, as they wrangled over who was to blame for its shutdown. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - North and South Korea on Monday failed to agree on a framework for resuming operations at a joint industrial complex, as they wrangled over who was to blame for its shutdown.

A fifth round of talks about the Kaesong zone again ended without agreement, but the two sides will meet on Thursday, the South's unification ministry said.

Production at the Kaesong estate has been suspended since North Korea withdrew its 53,000 workers from the complex in April at the height of military tension with the South.

Working-level officials from both sides have already met four times this month to discuss the future of the complex, established in 2004 as a rare symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.

The talks have been dominated by mutual recrimination over the cause of the shutdown, and the unwillingness of either side to be seen to make any concession to get Kaesong running again.

At Monday's discussions the main sticking point between the two sides was working out a framework to prevent a future closure, the South's chief delegate Kim Ki Woong told reporters.

"Our position is clear that there should be a firm pledge from North Korea to prevent a closure," he said, according to reports.

Monday's fifth round was again held in Kaesong, which lies 10km inside North Korea and which, prior to its shutdown, hosted 123 South Korean companies.

The South is insisting that North Korea provides guarantees to prevent any repetition of what Seoul insists was the unilateral closure of Kaesong by Pyongyang.

The North says it was not responsible, arguing that its hand was forced by hostile South Korean actions and intimidation - in particular a series of joint military exercises with the United States.

After the fourth round of talks last Wednesday, delegate Kim said there was "a big difference" between the parties on working out a legal framework to prevent a future closure.

The South has proposed allowing foreign firms to operate there in the apparent belief that it would make it more difficult for the North to shut down the complex at will.

North Korea wants an unconditional and early restart of operations, and both sides have accused the other of lacking sincerity in the negotiating process.

South Korean President Park Geun Hye urged the North to learn from other communist nations that have benefited by reforming their economies and adopting global codes of practise.

"Many countries including China and Vietnam have proven that offering internationally-accepted environments for investors will bring in bigger benefits," Ms Park said in a meeting with advisers on Monday.

"I hope that the latest talks will produce meaningful and sustainable agreement," she added.

Born out of the Sunshine Policy of inter-Korean conciliation initiated in the late 1990s by South Korean president Kim Dae Jung, Kaesong was a crucial hard currency source for the impoverished North through taxes, revenues, and its cut of worker wages.

The joint complex, which had survived previous inter-Korean crises, was the most high-profile casualty of two months of elevated tensions that followed a nuclear test by the North in February which sparked international condemnation.

The North initially barred South Korean access to the zone, and then pulled out its workers. Seoul withdrew the last of its nationals in early May.

South Korean managers say they have suffered production losses of around US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion), and have criticised North and South Korea for playing political football with their businesses.

Some have threatened to pull out of the complex permanently unless operations resume soon.

The discussions on Kaesong followed a failed attempt to initiate high-level talks in June as military tensions subsided.

The dialogue was cancelled at the last minute because of a row over protocol, with neither side able to agree on the levels of their chief delegates.