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Two Koreas agree to take steps to reopen joint industrial zone

Suh Ho (centre R), head of the South Korean working-level delegation, leads his colleagues to a meeting as they prepare to depart for the No
Suh Ho (centre R), head of the South Korean working-level delegation, leads his colleagues to a meeting as they prepare to depart for the No

By Jane Chung

SEOUL (Reuters) - North and South Korea agreed early on Sunday to take steps to reopen a jointly run industrial park, including facilities inspections, after the two rivals staged a marathon meeting lasting more than 16 hours to arrange details.

The talks at a truce village of Panmunjom, where an armistice was signed in the 1950-53 Korean conflict, were held to find a way to restart operations at the Kaesong Industrial Zone, a rare source of hard currency for the impoverished North.

North Korea closed the complex of factories in April, withdrawing all of its 53,000 workers, and banned South Korean firms from crossing the border with supplies and managers at the height of tensions between the two countries.

"(North and South Korea) will hold a next meeting on July 10 at the industrial zone in order to restart operations, prevent an operation suspension in the future and normalize the zone as soon as the both sides are ready to do so, " South Korea's chief delegate Suh Ho told reporters after the talks.

"We got an impression that the North was very willing to resolve the Kaesong issue and is making great efforts as well."

Under the agreement, as well as meeting again, the two sides will conduct inspections of the facilities on Wednesday and let South Korean businessmen retrieve finished goods and raw materials.

North Korea's state-owned KCNA news agency also reported the agreement on Sunday.

"The North and the South will make sure that the businesses in the KIZ will restart, depending on their preparations," KCNA reported, broadly echoing the details released by the South.

The two Koreas fell out over the park, just minutes from the heavily militarized border inside the reclusive North, as Seoul pressed Pyongyang to take responsibility for the shutdown and give assurances similar stoppages would not happen again.

North Korea said resuming operations at the park swiftly was a priority, but the two sides had been unable to agree on firm measures to avoid a repeat of the stoppage.

Their previous attempt at dialogue a month ago collapsed in acrimony amid arguments over protocol.

Earlier this year, North Korea threatened strikes with nuclear and other missiles against the South and the United States after the United Nations imposed toughened sanctions on the North for its third nuclear test in February.

The reopening of the Kaesong project is seen as meeting the political interest of the democratic South, one of the world's richest countries, and the economic interest of the North.

(Editing by Paul Tait)

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