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October 30, 2013

South Korean Lawmakers Visit Factory Complex in North

by VOA News

A group of South Korean lawmakers traveled to a North Korean border village Wednesday to visit a jointly run industrial park that recently reopened following months of military tensions.

The 21 lawmakers and several Unification Ministry officials are expected to meet with South Korean businessmen during their visit to the Kaesong industrial complex, which lies 10 kilometers inside North Korea.

Soo-jin Park, a spokeswoman for the South Korean Unification Ministry, says the trip is more than just a routine inspection.

"The visit by the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee is separate from the routine parliamentary inspection, designed to evaluate the progress on the industrial complex's normalization," she said.

The facility was shut down in April after the North pulled its 53,000 workers during a time of unusually tense relations following Pyongyang's third nuclear test. It was reopened last month as ties improved, but production is only at 80 percent.

​​Before crossing the border Wednesday, ruling party lawmaker Ahn Hong-joon said he hopes the trip can lead to a "new beginning" for the complex and for inter-Korean cooperation.

"We should look forward to a future that does not simply go back to the situation of six months ago, but leads to a new beginning by progressive development of the Kaesong industrial complex," he said. "Upon discussions of the normalization process, we, the National Assembly's Foreign and Unification Committee, will make an effort to build the South-North relationship upon trust, and act as a stepping stone for improvement overall."

Vice Unification Minister Kim Nam-sik is among the Seoul government officials taking part in the one-day trip. The group is not scheduled to meet with officials in Pyongyang, which has given mixed signals about restarting several cross-border economic projects.

In addition to agreeing to re-open their joint factory zone, the North and South recently reached a deal on restarting reunions between families separated by the 1950s Korean War. It would have been the first time in years that such a meeting was held.
 
But North Korea abruptly postponed the reunions, as well as talks on resuming South Korean tourism to Mount Kumgang, citing alleged hostility from Seoul.

Talks have also stalled on fully restoring operations at Kaesong, which uses cheap North Korean labor and South Korean know-how to produce mainly industrial goods.  

The factory, which opened in 2004, is an important source of revenue for North Korea and served as one of the last remaining signs of cooperation between Seoul and Pyongyang.