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(LEAD) Religious leaders urge gov't efforts for Kaesong park resumption

All Headlines 15:09 August 07, 2013

(ATTN: aid group's call for gov't approval of assistance to N. Korea in last 3 paras)

SEOUL, Aug. 7 (Yonhap) -- Hundreds of religious leaders in South Korea urged the government Wednesday to be more flexible in its negotiations with North Korea for a swift normalization of a suspended inter-Korean industrial park in the communist country.

The Kaesong Industrial Complex has remained shuttered since early April after the North unilaterally withdrew its workers from South Korean factories there amid heightened tensions on the peninsula.

The month-long negotiations between the two sides to reopen the zone went nowhere, and Pyongyang has yet to respond to Seoul's call for another dialogue to discuss the issue.

"The (South Korean) government should make a compromise with North Korea with generosity and tolerance to resume operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex," Gathering of Believers for the National Reconciliation and Peace, a local religious group, said in a press conference in central Seoul.

"As a basis for building an inter-Korean economic community down the road, the park should be run to prime the pump for national reunification," it added.

The entity, launched in 2005, involves some 658 people of different religions and denominations including Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism and other indigenous faiths.

The group also called on President Park Geun-hye to "open the door wide for humanitarian assistance by religious and private organizations for the vulnerable in the North," while asking the government to reach out to help flood victims there.

Last week, Seoul's unification ministry allowed medicine and food shipments by five non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to the impoverished country despite sanctions on the North for its nuclear test in February.

The ministry, however, rejected planned aid shipments by five other NGOs, citing the probability of the food aid not reaching its intended recipients due to authorities in the North.

Meanwhile, the Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea, an association of 56 local civic aid groups, pressed the government to fully approve their aid to the communist country.

"It is hard to understand the government's controlling of sending humanitarian assistance to North Korea," council official Kang Young-sik said. "The government should rather strive to guarantee transparency of the distribution if it worries about Pyongyang's misuse of the assistance."

The group plans to ask for an official meeting with the unification minister to discuss the issue this week, while mulling a wide public campaign in case that fails to result in a compromise with the government.


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