North Korea 'to allow Kaesong managers back'

Empty gates for North Korea's Kaesong city are seen at the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom, that separates the two Koreas, 3 May 2013
Image caption Kaesong was seen as one of the last remaining symbols of inter-Korean co-operation

Pyongyang has said it is willing to allow South Korean businessmen to visit the jointly-run Kaesong zone.

In a statement carried by state media, North Korea said it was prepared to discuss with the businessmen how normal operations could be resumed.

But South Korea expressed worry about its citizens' safety and said government-level talks should be held.

Operations at the joint industrial complex have been suspended since the North withdrew its workers in April.

'Divisive plot'

North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK), responsible for ties with South Korea, said on Tuesday it would guarantee the businessmen's safety.

"We have given permission for the visit and can even discuss the shipment of products at the industrial complex," Yonhap news agency quoted the committee as saying.

South Korea "may send with them members" of the governing body that oversees the complex, the committee added.

But a spokesman for South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North, said what was needed at this stage was talks between both governments, which Seoul has been requesting.

"The North must clearly understand that such a divisive plot will not work," the spokesman said in a statement.

"We once again strongly urge the North to come to the dialogue table immediately as we proposed if it really has the will to resolve the issue."

Some 123 South Korean companies have factories inside the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which lies just across the border inside North Korea.

The firms employ some 53,000 North Koreans and the zone is a key revenue earner for the North.

But Pyongyang withdrew its workers two months ago as North-South tensions escalated following Pyongyang's third nuclear test in February.