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Two Koreas agree to restart shuttered factory park

Head of the South Korean working-level delegation Kim Ki-woong (front R) and his North Korean counterpart Park Chol-su (2nd L) arrive for th
Head of the South Korean working-level delegation Kim Ki-woong (front R) and his North Korean counterpart Park Chol-su (2nd L) arrive for th

By Ju-min Park

SEOUL (Reuters) - Rivals North and South Korea agreed on Wednesday to restart a troubled joint industrial park after a series of talks on the fate of the last symbol of economic cooperation, raising hopes of possible improvement in political ties.

The two sides said in a joint statement they agreed to work together to get the Kaesong industrial zone, a few miles inside North Korea from the heavily fortified border, up and running again and prevent another shutdown.

They did not give a date.

The reopening of Kaesong is seen as addressing the political interests of the democratic South and the economic interests of the North, which is so poor it can't feed its people.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye welcomed the decision, saying she hoped "today's talks will be the beginning of a new start of South and North Korea relations", media said.

North Korea pulled its 53,000 workers out of the park at the height of tension between the two sides in April, with the North threatening the United States and the South with nuclear attack.

Kaesong, with investors from South Korea, was a rare source of hard currency for the reclusive North.

North Korea and the South, one of the world's richest countries, are technically still at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended not in a treaty but a truce.

"South and North guarantee the industrial zone's normal operation ... without influence of any kind from the political situation," the two sides said in the statement, noting that they would jointly try to attract overseas investors.

Since it opened in 2004, the Kaesong complex has generated about $90 million annually in wages paid directly to the North's state agency that manages the zone.

Most of the people employed by the South Korean companies were women on assembly lines.

Lee Sang-man, a professor at South Korea's ChungAng University and an expert on North Korea's economy, said the timing of the resumption of operations would be up to each company, and the extent of repairs and preparation they needed.

"Today's agreement untangled knots. Kaesong will be more solid than before," said Lee said.

Last week, North Korea said it would reopen the industrial zone just minutes after South Korea signaled it was willing to let it close for good.

This year, North Korea threatened nuclear strikes against the South and the United States after the United Nations tightened sanctions against it for conducting its third nuclear test in February.

But the threats largely ended in late April.

North Korea has also proposed talks on two other areas where they have cooperated in the past: tourist visits to the North's Mount Kumgang resort and reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 war.

South Korea has accepted the proposal to discuss family reunions, but not the resumption of tours to Mount Kumgang, which were suspended after a North Korean guard shot dead a South Korean tourist in 2008.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Nick Macfie and Robert Birsel)

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