South Korean trucks cross the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Office (CIQ) at the border city of Paju, Gyeonggi Province, to go into North Korea's Gaeseong city where the joint inter-Korean factory zone is located, Monday. / Yonhap
By Chung Min-uck
Gaeseong Industrial Complex (GIC), an inter-Korean factory park located at the North's border city, started its operations Monday after five month of shutdown.
More than half the 123 South Korean firms with factories at the GIC began test-runs and have asked North Korean workers to report to work, according to the Ministry of Unification.
Altogether 821 South Korean business-related personnel visited the park and around 400 will stay overnight, the ministry said.
"Running of the operations has been normalized in the afternoon after some facility check-ups were completed in the morning," said an official from the ministry.
Seoul and Pyongyang agreed last week to begin operations after making some headway on guarantees that the complex would not shut down again in the future over non-economic reasons.
Operations at the GIC came to a halt in April when the North pulled out all 53,000 of its workers from the factory, citing the South's provocation of a joint military exercise with the U.S.
GIC, which was launched as a result of the historic South-North summit in 2000 and began churning out products in late 2004, is considered a symbol of inter-Korean rapprochement.
As part of the agreement reached last week, South Korean firms on Monday were allowed an increased number of crossings ― 11 separate crossings into Gaeseong and 10 exits during the day ― easing travel to and from the complex.
In addition to the reopening of the industrial park, the two sides began the third round of joint GIC management negotiations with the aim of enhancing the rights of South Korean workers at Gaeseong.
Seoul has insisted that workers who are accused of violating rules and held by North Korean authorities be allowed to receive counsel from South Korean officials, stating that such a move is part of the critical progressive development process of building trust and ensuring sustainable operations at the GIC. The North has so far been slow to respond to the request and sign an affiliated agreement that would bind the communist country to respect the rights of South Koreans.
The two sides also plan to continue talks on advancing communication links such as Internet connectivity and mobile phone use between Gaeseong and South Korea, and adopting radio frequency identification tags to facilitate traffic over the demilitarized zone. Related to the talks, Kim Ki-woong, co-chairperson for the joint committee, told reporters before heading to Gaeseong earlier in the day that upcoming talks will be centered on ensuring that GIC truly becomes internationally competitive.
"To reach this goal, there are still quite a few problems to resolve, even though the factory park itself has reopened," he said. The official added that the committee will work to resolve all outstanding issues in a step-by-step manner.