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(LEAD) N. Korea says it will permit S. Korean entrepreneurs to visit Kaesong complex

All Headlines 22:15 July 03, 2013

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with more information, background)

SEOUL, July 3 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Wednesday it will allow South Korean businessmen to visit their plants in a suspended joint industrial complex in its territory, a move that may help open dialogue between the two divided Korean states.

The joint industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong remains closed since early April when North Korea withdrew all of its 53,000 workers hired by 123 South Korean plants there, citing U.S.-involved military exercises in the South.

South Korea subsequently pulled out all of its manpower there, bringing the most significant inter-Korean economic project to a juddering halt.

"(The North) has decided to allow South Korean businessmen to visit the Kaesong complex so that they can take emergency steps against possible damages of facilities and materials there during the rainy season," said a North Korean message conveyed to South Korea through the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom at 5 p.m. (Seoul time).

South Korea's Unification Ministry said the message was addressed to the organization representing companies with plants in Kaesong and a group of Southern officials who worked there to support them.

In the message, North Korea said it will take necessary steps, including cross-border passages and communications, if and when it is notified of a date for their visit, the ministry said.

South Korea will review the North's proposal and express its response as early as Thursday, it said.

The North's message was sent through a phone line reopened by North Korea shortly beforehand, according to ministry officials. After the industrial complex was closed, North Korea had cut off all cross-border communication lines with the South.

The latest North Korean move comes after a group of South Korean companies with plants in Kaesong said they would relocate their production facilities to South Korea or third countries unless prompt actions are taken to reopen the complex.

The industrial complex, a symbol of cross-border rapprochement stemming from the historic 2000 inter-Korean summit, opened in late 2004, combining South Korean capital and technology with the North's cheap labor.

The two Koreas remain divided since 1948. They fought a bloody three-year war in the early 1950s.

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