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Seoul defers decision on biz people's request to visit industrial park in N. Korea: official

North Korea 11:39 January 15, 2019

SEOUL, Jan. 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will likely decide by next week whether to allow businesspeople to visit an industrial complex in North Korea's border town of Kaesong, as more time is needed to review their request, a unification ministry official said Tuesday.

Last week, around 180 businesspeople who once operated plants at the industrial park requested state approval for their trip there Wednesday to check facilities they left behind when it was abruptly closed in 2016. This marked their seventh attempt to make a trip to the industrial park since its shutdown.

"We need more time to have discussions among relevant agencies, securing an understanding from the international community and detailed consultations with the North as well," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity. "We need more time and will notify the businesspeople (about the delay) tomorrow."

He said it usually takes seven days to complete the review process for such a North Korea trip and the period can be extended once for another seven days, adding it means the ministry will have to decide on the latest trip issue no later than Jan. 25.

He noted that the businesspeople's push to travel to Kaesong itself does not violate sanctions, but it cannot be seen completely separate from the issue of reopening the industrial complex, which would be subject to global sanctions.

Opened in 2004, the Kaesong Industrial Complex was hailed as a successful cross-border economic cooperation project that combines South Korea's capital with North Korea's cheap labor. Critics, however, suspected that the money earned by North Korean workers could be channeled to Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

It was halted unilaterally in February 2016 by the then conservative Park Geun-hye government in retaliation for the North's nuclear and missile provocations.

In his New Year's Day address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed a willingness to resume the operations of the industrial park and a tour program to Mount Kumgang, which was also suspended in 2008 "without preconditions."

During their September summit, Moon and Kim agreed to "normalize" the operations of the suspended projects as soon as conditions are met, apparently pointing to the need to address the issue of sanctions before their resumption.


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