April 19, 2009 / 7:46 AM / 9 years ago

Two Koreas to meet on industrial park amid tension

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea on Sunday accepted a rare North Korean proposal for talks over a joint factory park north of their heavily armed border as global powers try to prevent Pyongyang from restarting its nuclear arms plant.

<p>North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (C) visits the newly built Ryongwon power plant in North Korea, in this undated picture released by North Korea's official news agency KCNA April 18, 2009. North Korea made a rare proposal on Saturday for talks with the South over a joint industrial park just north of the border where the communist state has been holding a South Korean worker captive for weeks. REUTERS/KCNA QUALITY FROM SOURCE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS</p>

South Korea will send a team of about 10 officials to the Kaesong industrial complex on Tuesday, where the communist North has been holding a South Korean worker captive for weeks, a Unification Ministry spokeswoman said at a news briefing.

The move comes after North Korea expelled international nuclear inspectors and said it would restart its Yongbyon nuclear plant that makes bomb-grade plutonium in response to being chastised by the United Nations for a rocket launch earlier this month widely seen as a disguised long-range missile test.

“Our priorities are the security of South Koreans and development of the Kaesong industrial town,” said spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo, who did not offer further details about the discussions that will be held on Tuesday.

North Korea, which has mostly suspended talks with the South, on Saturday requested the discussions, the ministry said.

Soon after making the request for talks, the North’s official media warned South Korea not to join a U.S.-led initiative against the flow of weapons, saying any sanctions against the communist state would be considered an act of war.

The Kaesong industrial park, once hailed as a model of future economic cooperation between the two Koreas, has been a focal point of conflict over the past few months with the North expelling South Korean workers and clamping down on operations.

North Korea has held the South Korean worker for three weeks at the complex. Local media said the worker angered the North by making derogatory comments about its communist political system.

An article in the North’s communist party newspaper on Sunday said Pyongyang would not back away from confrontation and will fight any punishment for what it argues was a peaceful satellite launch.

“The military threat escalated by the hostile forces, ... challenging even the satellite launch for peaceful purposes, compels the DPRK (North Korea) to further increase its nuclear deterrent,” said the article carried on the North’s KCNA news agency.

Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Sanjev Miglani

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