Kaesong complex: Two Koreas to hold more talks

Hundreds of South Korean representatives from Kaesong-based companies hold a rally at Imjingak peace park in Paju near the border with North Korea on 7 August 2013
Image caption Hundreds of South Korean protestors have demanded the reopening of the park

North and South Korea have agreed to resume talks on reopening the Kaesong industrial zone, days after Seoul demanded "final talks" on the matter.

In a statement on Wednesday, Pyongyang offered talks on 14 August, saying its workers would return to the joint complex and the safety of South Korean staff would be guaranteed.

Both sides would prevent another suspension of operations, it added.

South Korea has accepted the proposal, describing it as "forward-looking".

Several previous rounds of talks have ended in deadlock. South Korea is demanding Pyongyang provide guarantees it will not unilaterally close the zone again.

It was not immediately clear whether North Korea's offer fulfilled Seoul's criteria for such a guarantee.

The North Korean offer came shortly after Seoul announced insurance payments to companies affected by the stoppage - a move seen as paving the way for a formal closure of the site.

'New phase'

The zone, which lies just inside North Korea, has been closed since Pyongyang withdrew its workers in April, angered by UN sanctions following its 12 February nuclear test and a US-South Korea military drill.

The zone is home to 123 South Korean factories employing more than 50,000 North Korean workers, and is a key source of revenue for the North.

Several rounds of talks on resuming operations ended in deadlock in July.

Wednesday's statement, attributed to North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, said: "The North side will lift the step for temporarily suspending operations... [and] allow the entry of South Korean businesses."

"The North and the South will prevent the recurrence of the suspension of operation in the KIZ [Kaesong Industrial Zone] and ensure normal operation in the KIZ without being affected by any situation in any case," it said, without giving further details.

The proposal was "prompted by [North Korea's] desire to bring about a new phase of reconciliation, co-operation, peace, reunification and prosperity by normalising operation in the Kaesong zone", the statement added.

South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said Seoul had agreed to the 14 August talks.

Aid pledge

Hours earlier, as around 500 South Korean factory owners and workers protested in Paju over the closure, Seoul said it had authorised insurance payments worth 280bn won ($251m; £163m) to companies affected by the suspension.

Image caption The complex is a key source of revenue for the North

Under insurance rules, companies can receive up to 90% of their investment losses in compensation, and ownership of the companies' assets will go to the government, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

The move was seen as a step towards closing down the zone permanently.

The proposed movement on Kaesong also came a day after Seoul said it was providing $6m (£4m) in aid to North Korea.

South Korean officials said it was the first time in two years that government aid had been sent to North Korea.

The North, which suffered severe floods in the last two years, relies on aid to feed its people.

But the flow of aid from Seoul has been halted in recent years amid deadlock over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

The aid will be sent through the UN children's charity Unicef, and will provide vaccines, medical care and food for children.