SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s government said Thursday that it has reached out to North Korea to discuss restarting a jointly run factory park after weeks of testy silence between the two sides.
The industrial complex in the North Korean city of Kaesong, just north of the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas, has been shut since a political showdown in April.
As South Korea held military exercises with the U.S. not far from the border, North Korea pulled its 53,000 workers in protest. South Korea then ordered its managers to leave as well, against their wishes.
The closing of Kaesong, the centerpiece of joint projects hatched during a previous era of warming ties between the wartime foes, dealt a symbolic blow to reconciliation efforts between the divided Koreas. The project, which facilitated nearly $2 billion a year in cross-border trade, had been the last joint project left as relations soured over the past five years.
The closure also meant a loss of salary for tens of thousands of North Korean workers employed in factories run by 123 South Korean companies, and a loss of goods and orders for business managers who relied on Kaesong to churn out everything from shoes and watches to cables and electrical components.
On Thursday, South Korea said it proposed holding working-level talks with North Korean officials in the truce village of Panmunjom inside the DMZ.
Seoul wants to set the grounds for discussions on restarting the idled factory park, as well as ways to manage the facilities and goods that South Korean businesses left behind. South Korea proposed holding talks Saturday and said it would send three delegates, the Unification Ministry said.
There was no immediate response from Pyongyang.
However, on Wednesday, North Korea responded to a plea from South Korean business managers seeking to visit Kaesong to move their goods and equipment out of the park. North Korea also answered South Korea’s call through the communication line at Panmunjom. The two Koreas last used the communication line in June.
The business managers specializing in machinery and electronics production at Kaesong said they want to move their gear out due to worries of damage from the July rainy season, the South Korean government said.
Pyongyang previously had refused the South Koreans permission to cross the border into Kaesong to check on their idled factories.
In a statement, the representatives of the South Korean companies shut out of Kaesong said they hope that the working-level talks would be held successfully. They said they asking the two governments to approve a visit to North Korea on Tuesday.
The two Koreas had tried last month to hold talks on Kaesong and other stalled projects at Mount Kumgang on North Korea’s east coast. The talks in Seoul would have been the first senior-level meeting in years. But the plans broke down over a protocol issue.
The Korean Peninsula has remained in a technical state of war since 1953, when Korean War foes signed an armistice to end three years of fighting.