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North, South Korea to Discuss Troubled Joint Factory Project


North and South Korea have arranged a meeting next week to discuss operations at a troubled joint industrial zone. South Korea is expected to use the meeting to press for the release of a South Korean manager of the zone who has been detained by the North since March.

South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung says North Korea is ready to talk about the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

He says North Korea offered to hold working-level discussions next Thursday. That appointment is in response to offers the South has made for talks since last month.

The Kaesong complex is an experiment in North-South cooperation which opened for business in 2004 just inside North Korea's border with the South. South Korean businesses hire nearly 40,000 inexpensive North Korean workers to manufacture simple items like clothing and cosmetics.

However, the zone has run into a series of serious complications amid worsening relations between North and South. Since last year's inauguration of conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak - who North Korea calls a "traitor" - North Korea has restricted access to the zone, detained a South Korean executive for more than two months without trial, and cancelled all of the contracts governing rent and wages.

The detained executive, known by his surname Yu, is believed to have made inflammatory comments about North Korea's political leaders. He may also have encouraged a North Korean female worker to defect to the South.

For South Korean officials, his detention without visiting rights or legal counsel is a key concern, because it reflects upon the overall safety of several hundred corporate managers in the zone.

Unification Ministry deputy spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo says North Korea has not yet insisted that Yu will be treated according to North Korea's domestic laws. She says South Korea is insisting his case be handled according to previous North-South agreements - not North Korean law

Yu's case is drawing inevitable comparisons to North Korea's detention of two American female journalists who were captured in March. A trial was scheduled for the two women Thursday in Pyongyang, but the North has kept completely silent so far about the outcome.

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