World Bulletin/News Desk
South Korea said on Thursday it was proposing formal talks with North Korea to discuss restarting work at a joint factory zone located just north of the rivals' heavily armed border that was suspended in early April amid growing security tensions.
The offer is the first formal proposal for direct talks by Seoul aimed at making a breakthrough in a deadlock over the Kaesong factory project, which was the last remaining channel open between the two Koreas until it was forced to close.
North Korea has denied South Korean workers and supplies entry to the industrial zone, located a few miles inside the border, accusing Seoul of using the joint project to insult its leadership. About 180 South Korean workers have chosen to stay there and are believed to be running out of food and supplies.
"The government today officially proposes to hold working-level talks between the authorities of the South and North to resolve humanitarian issues affecting Kaesong workers and to normalise Kaesong industrial zone," Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said.
He demanded the North respond by Friday morning. That is likely to anger Pyongyang, which has blamed the South for jeopardizing the project by disparaging its goodwill.
The zone is seen as a lucrative source of cash for the impoverished North.
The North has withdrawn its workforce of about 53,000 from the zone amid spiralling tensions between the two Koreas, with a fusillade of hostile rhetoric from Pyongyang in response to what it sees as threatening U.S. and South Korean military drills.
The South's 123 small- and medium-sized manufacturers paid about $130 a month to the North Korean state authorities for each of the North Korean workers they employ.
Ties between the two Koreas were all but severed after the sinking of a South Korean navy ship in 2010, widely blamed on Pyongyang. The North also bombed a South Korean island later that year.
The number of South Korean workers inside the Kaesong industrial zone has dwindled from the 700 or so normally needed to keep the factory running since the North banned entry on April 3. The 170 or so workers still there are kept by the South Korean firms as the minimum required to safeguard assets at the 1 trillion won ($894.73 million) park.Last Mod: 25 Nisan 2013, 11:09