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Seoul Official Expresses Hope for Improved Inter-Korean Ties

FILE - War veterans and members of conservative groups hold their national flags during a rally to call for unity between two Koreas in Seoul, South Korea, March 1, 2015.

South Korea’s point man on North Korea said Friday that he expected to see progress in inter-Korean relations soon.

South Korean Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo told reporters his government would enhance efforts to improve ties with Pyongyang.

“We need to make more efforts, and North Korea needs to show a more positive attitude to achieve substantial progress [in inter-Korean relations],” said Hong.

Hong advised South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Seoul’s policy on Pyongyang for two years before being picked as the South's point man on Pyongyang in February. The 51-year-old academic is known to favor engagement with North Korea.

Hong’s comments came as the U.S. and South Korea are about to wrap up a joint military exercise that involves 200,000 South Korean soldiers and 3,700 U.S. troops. Pyongyang protested the exercise strongly, boycotting dialogue with Seoul. Washington and Seoul insist the exercise is deterrent in nature.

Hong said efforts were underway to resume dialogue between the two governments. He also hinted at increasing humanitarian aid for the communist country and promised to lower eligibility requirements for private groups’ humanitarian projects for North Korea.

Hong cited a recent wage dispute at the Kaesong Industrial Complex as one of the challenges that two Koreas are facing. Tensions have risen since November, when Pyongyang unilaterally raised the monthly minimum wage for its workers at the complex. After the two governments’ attempts to settle the dispute failed, South Korean businessmen who own the firms at the complex started preparing for a possible shutdown.

“Most of the companies took goods out of their factories at the complex and moved them to the headquarters in the South,” Yoo Chang-keun, vice chairman of the South’s Kaesong Industrial Complex Business Association, said in a phone interview with the VOA Korean service this week.

Yoo said owners of the companies did not want to face difficulties they had in 2013, when Pyongyang unilaterally shut down the complex. According to Yoo, most companies suffered financial losses during the shutdown because they were not allowed to take goods out of their factories.