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July 29, 2013

Koreas Exchange Blame on Factory Talks Breakdown

by Daniel Schearf

North Korea is not responding to South Korea's proposal for a final round of talks to try to re-open their joint industrial zone in Kaesong. Negotiations between the two Koreas broke down last week with both sides blaming the other.
 
North Korea gave no immediate response to South Korea's offer Monday for one more round of negotiations on their jointly run industrial complex in Kaesong.
 
South Korea's Unification Ministry said the official message was sent to North Korea through the border village of Panmunjom with no proposed date, time or venue.
 
North Korea acknowledged receiving the message but gave no reply.
 
South Korea's Unification Ministry Sunday repeated threats of “grave consequences” for the factory complex if North Korea did not change its attitude.
 
Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk urged Pyongyang to make the right choice for the project and for inter-Korean relations.
 
He said Seoul has emphasized that North Korea must guarantee that it will not take unilateral measures such as restricting access or withdrawing employees in order to resolve the difficulties of companies in the Kaesong Industrial Complex and for constructive normalization. He said they have urged North Korea to express its clear stance on preventing the recurrence of this situation.
 
Kaesong was the only resilient symbol of inter-Korean cooperation though years of political and military tensions.
 
But in April Pyongyang withdrew its 53,000 workers, citing insults to its dignity and tensions over South Korea-United States military exercises.
 
Analysts said a response to tougher United Nations sanctions for its third nuclear test, in February, was a more likely reason.
 
The two Koreas have held six rounds of talks this month on how to re-open the jointly run industrial complex.
 
The last one, on Thursday, ended bitterly when the North accused the South of being “arrogant” and causing negotiations to break down.
 
North Korean negotiators threatened to re-station soldiers at the industrial park that were pulled out after it opened in 2004.
 
A brief scuffle broke out when South Korean officials tried to stop the North Koreans from distributing internal documents from the talks to journalists.
 
Despite the tough language from Seoul, South Korea on Sunday confirmed it would allow millions of dollars in food and medical aid be sent to the North.

The Unification Ministry announced it would give over six million dollars in humanitarian aid for the North's malnourished children and pregnant women. Spokesman Kim said a private organization would also be allowed to donate over a million dollars in food and medical aid for kids.
 
As for the humanitarian aid to North Korea, he said, it was announced through the statement of the Unification Minister. He said they will support the process by having discussions with the private group as soon as the discussion about North Korea and procedures for humanitarian aid are completed.
 
Also Monday, Korea's Yonhap news agency reported former U.S. president Jimmy Carter will soon travel to North Korea to help secure the release of Kenneth Bae.
 
Bae, a Korean-American tour operator, was arrested in November and charged with trying to overthrow the communist government. Pyongyang says Bae is a Christian missionary and was preaching in the North, where communist doctrine is hostile to religion and churches are strictly controlled.
 
Despite having poor health, Bae was sentenced in April to 15 years of hard labor.
 
Observers believe Bae is being used by Pyongyang as a bargaining chip to try to re-start direct talks with the United States over its nuclear programs.
 
Former president Carters and Clinton have made previous visits to North Korea to bring home other detained Americans, acting as private citizens.
 
Washington said it will not return to talks with Pyongyang until it demonstrates sincerity to give up its nuclear plans.

VOA Seoul Bureau Producer Youmi Kim contributed to this report