North Korea restores hotline with South

2013-07-03 16:01

(AFP)

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Seoul - North Korea on Wednesday restored its official hotline with South Korea and announced it would let the South's businessmen visit a shuttered joint industrial zone, Seoul officials said.

The move came hours after dozens of South Korean firms threatened to withdraw from the zone at Kaesong in the North, complaining they had fallen victim to political bickering between the two rivals.

"The hotline was restored this afternoon after North Korea accepted our request to normalise it," a South Korean unification ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

After months of tensions and threats of nuclear war, the North restored the hotline in the border truce village of Panmunjom last month for talks on setting up a rare high-level meeting to discuss the fate of the zone.

But it was switched off again after plans for the talks collapsed due to disputes over protocol.

In an unexpected reversal on Wednesday, the North sent a message to the South through Panmunjom saying South Korean businessmen and managers would be allowed to visit the industrial complex.

It said the businessmen could take emergency steps to avert damage to facilities and materials in the complex during the rainy season, according to a unification ministry statement.

South Korea will review the North's proposal and convey its response later, the ministry said.

Established in 2004 as a rare symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, the industrial estate was the most high-profile casualty of months of elevated tensions that followed the North's nuclear test in February.

Operations at the complex just north of the border ground to a halt soon after the North banned entry by southerners on 3 April, amid soaring military tensions with Seoul.

About a week later Pyongyang pulled all its own workers out, prompting Seoul to withdraw its managers and officials soon afterwards.

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