SEOUL, July 24, 2013 (AFP) – North and South Korea will hold fresh talks Thursday on reopening a joint industrial zone amid growing concern that the last symbol of peace between the two countries might be heading for a permanent closure.
Officials from both sides have already met five times this month but failed to narrow differences on rescuing the Seoul-invested Kaesong zone in North Korea, suspended since April.
“They remain miles apart over who is responsible for the stoppage and what should be done to prevent a recurrence,” Professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies told AFP.
“If today’s talks collapse, the Kaesong zone is highly likely to be shut down for good,” he said.
Yang said Thursday’s talks would likely be the last chance to salvage Kaesong as tensions will heighten again next month over an annual US-South Korea military exercise.
Details of the Ulji Freedom Guardian exercise have not been announced, but it usually begins in the middle of August for a 10-day run, involving tens of thousands of US and South Korean troops.
North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the country’s ruling communist party, warned on Sunday that the exercise would create an “uncontrollable” crisis on the Korean peninsula.
Chang Yong-Seok, from the Institute for Peace and Unification at Seoul National University, said a deadlock on Thursday did not necessarily mean the end of talks, as neither side wants to be seen as first to leave the negotiating table.
Production at the Kaesong estate, 10 kilometres (six miles) over the border, has been suspended since North Korea withdrew its 53,000 workers from the zone in April at the height of soaring military tensions with the South.
The talks have been dominated by mutual recrimination over the cause of the shutdown.
The South wants North Korea to guarantee it will prevent any repetition of what Seoul insists was the unilateral closure of Kaesong by Pyongyang.
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