x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

N Korea seeks talks over Kaesong

North Korea calls for its first official contact with the South in more than a year to discuss a Seoul-funded joint industrial estate.

North Korea has called for its first official contact with the South in more than a year to discuss a Seoul-funded joint industrial estate, officials said today. Analysts said, however, the North was likely to warn the South that the Kaesong industrial estate and all other inter-Korean ties would be cut if Seoul joined a US-led initiative to curb trade in weapons of mass destruction. "North Korea has proposed an inter-Korean contact concerning the Kaesong industrial zone on Tuesday morning," unification ministry spokesman Kim Ho-Nyoun told journalists.

"Currently, the government is considering its response," he said. "We don't know what the North wants to talk about exactly." The request for talks was made "recently" through Kaesong, he said. The unification ministry, which handles cross-border ties, has held a raft of meetings of top officials presided over by unification minister Hyun In-Taek, he said. The industrial estate, which was opened in 2005 as a symbol of reconciliation, has been hit by souring inter-Korean ties since a conservative government took office in Seoul in February last year.

In December, Pyongyang restricted border crossings and expelled hundreds of South Korean managers from the estate just north of the border. On March 30, it arrested a South Korean employee at Kaesong for allegedly criticising the North's communist regime and trying to persuade a local woman worker to defect. North Korea has so far refused to let Seoul representatives visit him at the estate. Professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies said the North would use the meeting to give the South a fresh warning against its participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI).

"North Korea will likely warn if the South joins PSI, all inter-Korean ties would be cut off, Kaesong would be shut down and the detention of the South Korean would last for a long time." North Korea, a leading exporter of missiles in recent years, has warned that Seoul's participation would be tantamount to a declaration of a war. * AFP