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S Korea's ruling party chief to visit industrial park in DPRK


08:24, September 28, 2011

SEOUL, Sept. 27 (Xinhua) -- South Korea's ruling party chairman said Tuesday he will travel to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) Friday to visit an industrial complex jointly managed by the two sides, an attempt to reduce tension on the divided peninsula.

"It's difficult to directly resolve impending political and military issues," Hong Joon-pyo of the Grand National Party told reporters. "The party believes economic cooperation could help build trust in inter-Korean ties."

The conservative lawmaker said he plans to meet with South Korean business operators at the joint industrial complex, located in the DPRK border town of Kaesong, in what will be the first-ever such visit by a South Korean ruling party chief.

"I believe the North Korean (DPRK) side also sees this trip as a meaningful one," Hong said, adding the DPRK's approval for the visit came unusually early.

The factory park, opened in 2003, stands as the last-remaining symbol of reconciliation between the two wartime enemies as they remain hostile following two deadly border incidents that killed 50 South Koreans last year.

It now houses some 120 South Korean firms that employ 44,000 DPRK workers, but business operators there have said they feel threatened by worsening cross-border ties.

Hong's Kaesong visit comes after he proposed earlier this month pilot projects between the South Korea and DPRK to help the DPRK cope with its chronic food shortages, a move observers said hinted at Seoul's shift in its hard-line stance against the northern neighbor.

South Korea can improve and expand irrigation facilities and provide fertilizer and farm equipment while the DPRK can grow high-value cash crops, Hong said in a speech on Sept. 7, calling for a "paradigm shift" in Seoul's aid to Pyongyang.

In what was seen as another friendly guesture, South Korea's conservative President Lee Myung-bak named last month a new unification minister, tasked with overseeing inter-Korean affairs, following calls for a change in the country's heavy-handed dealings with the DPRK.

The country, which suspended almost all exchanges with its northern rival last year, also recently allowed rare civilian food aid to the DPRK and approved a Pyongyang visit by a group of South Korean religious leaders.


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