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Inter-Korean Talks in Kaesong End Without Deal

FILE - North Korean workers assemble Western-style suits at the South Korean-run ShinWon Corp. garment factory inside the Kaesong industrial complex in Kaesong, North Korea.

Talks between North and South Korea over a wage dispute at the Kaesong Industrial Complex have ended without an agreement.

A five-member delegation from each side met at the complex Thursday. The meeting marked the first government-to-government talks between the two sides over the management of the complex this year.

The two sides have held several rounds of talks for nearly 12 hours over a wide range of issues, including the wage dispute, but failed to reach a deal. Details of the talks were not known, but the two sides could not narrow differences over the wage dispute, according to South Korean officials who participated in the talks. The two sides have not set a date for the next meeting.

Lee Sang-min, head of the South Korean delegation and director-general of Inter-Korean Cooperation District Policy Planning Directorate, told reporters after the talks that the wage dispute was a key sticking point. The North stuck to its previous position that it should make decisions about wage increases for its workers. The South maintains such decisions should be made mutual agreement, citing an inter-Korean agreement.

The two sides also differed over the South’s proposal to streamline procedures for passage to and from the facility, communications, and customs at the inter-Korean border. The South has been seeking the revisions to achieve what it says is a necessary step for the development of the complex. The North, however, was reluctant to address the South's proposal, according to Lee.

The talks started smoothly, with the head of each delegation expressing hope for improved bilateral ties.

“If we engage in this negotiation with sincerity while putting our heads together, we believe that it would be possible for us to resolve all the issues for the normalization and development of the Kaesong Industrial Complex,” said Lee.

The head of the North Korean delegation welcomed the remarks.

“It is believed that this sixth round of the joint committee meeting today can act as a welcome rain after a drought and provide a great opportunity for dialogue, which was sincerely desired by our people and industrialists who want revitalization of the industrial complex,” said Park Chul Soo, vice chief of the Guidance Bureau for the Development of the Central Special Economic Zone, who led the North Korean delegation.

The two sides have been at odds over the wage increase since November 2014, when the North unilaterally revised labor regulations recognized by the two sides to allow wage increases for its workers at the complex. In February, the North demanded the monthly minimum wage for the workers be raised from $70.35 to $74. The South rejected the demand.

The rare talks raised hope of a possible thaw in relations between two Koreas.

Recently, tensions between the two sides have heightened over the establishment of a United Nations human rights office in the South. The office opened in Seoul last month to monitor North Korean human rights.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.