S Korea denies blame for scrapped talks
12 June 2013, 14:13
Seoul - South Korea rejected any blame on Wednesday for the collapse of planned talks with the North, as businessmen from a closed joint industrial zone complained they were being ruined by politics.
North Korea, meanwhile, offered no comment at all on the last-minute cancellation of the dialogue, and refused to answer routine calls from South on a newly-restored inter-government hotline.
The two Koreas had initially agreed to hold their first high-level talks for six years in Seoul on Wednesday and Thursday, but the meeting was called off on Tuesday evening because of an apparent rift over protocol.
North Korea told the South its nomination of a vice minister as its chief delegate was an insult, while Seoul insisted his rank was commensurate with the official named by Pyongyang.
Asked in parliament why Seoul had not acceded to Pyongyang's request to send a minister in order to save the talks, Prime Minister Chung Hong-Won suggested times had changed.
"In the past, we have made infinite concessions to the North, but the time has come to hold talks where both sides are represented by officials of the same level," Chung said.
"I think the national pride of the Republic of Korea should also be considered," he added.
On the proposed talks agenda was the resumption of two suspended commercial projects, including the Kaesong joint industrial complex which the North shut down in April as military tensions on the Korean peninsula flared.
The association representing the 123 South Korean firms based in Kaesong appealed to both Seoul and Pyongyang to find a way back to the dialogue table as soon as possible.
"We are deeply disappointed that the talks failed to take place," association spokesperson Yu Chang-Geun told reporters.
In the meantime, engineers and technicians "must be allowed to enter Kaesong to carry out maintenance work on the production facilities," Yu said.
Company owners warn that their plants will fall into permanent disrepair if they stay mothballed for much longer.
South Korea did attempt to contact the North on Wednesday, using a hotline which Pyongyang restored last week when the two sides began organising the high-level talks.
The South's Unification Ministry said it had made two routine calls on the hotline in the morning and the afternoon.
"But the North did not answer," it said in a statement.
In Seoul around 100 protestors from a right-wing civic group held an anti-North Korea demonstration during which they slashed a North Korean flag and burned an effigy of leader Kim Jong-Un.