2 Koreas hold talks despite North’s threats

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North and South Korea opened talks Tuesday on further developing their joint industrial complex in the North despite Pyongyang’s recent threat to break off all dialogue and negotiations, an official said.

Following reports of a South Korean contingency plan to handle any unrest in the isolated North, Pyongyang threatened last week to launch a “sacred nationwide retaliatory battle” and vowed to cease all communication with the South.

Still, the two sides were meeting in the North’s border city of Kaesong, Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said. She had no other details.

During the two days of talks, officials were expected to assess their joint tour of industrial parks in China and Vietnam undertaken in December to get ideas about how to further develop the Kaesong complex.

Kaesong, which combines South Korean capital and technology with cheap North Korean labor, is the most prominent symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. About 110 South Korean factories employ some 42,000 North Korean workers.

On Monday, North Korea issued a statement renewing the country’s demand that international sanctions be lifted before it will return to stalled negotiations aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programs.

The statement, issued by North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, said “it is nonsensical for the (North) to sit at the negotiating table with those countries that violate its sovereignty.”

Last year, Pyongyang quit the six-party talks — with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States — in anger over international condemnation of a prohibited long-range rocket launch.

The North “is not opposed to the six-party talks and has no ground whatsoever to delay them,” the statement said, but added that it would not return to them while under sanctions.

“The dignity of (North Korea) will never allow this to happen,” the statement said.

The U.N. Security Council slapped tough new sanctions on the North in June, strengthening an arms embargo and authorizing ship searches on the high seas, following the missile launch and an underground nuclear test.

The North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper reiterated Tuesday the country’s demand for the signing of a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War, noting the treaty will help end its hostile relations with the U.S. and promote the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Fighting in the 1950-53 conflict was stopped by a truce, not a treaty.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry has said the issues of sanctions and a treaty could be discussed only after Pyongyang makes progress toward denuclearization.

Despite a series of threats last week, the impoverished North has also been reaching out to its rival in Seoul in what could be an attempt to win economic aid to relieve some of the pressure of the U.N. sanctions.

South Korea announced Friday that North Korea agreed to accept 10,000 tons of food aid which Seoul offered late last year to help relieve Pyongyang’s chronic food shortages. It would be Seoul’s first direct aid to the country under conservative President Lee Myung-bak.

Lee’s administration, however, still refuses to resume full-scale assistance, demanding that Pyongyang make progress in efforts to dismantle its nuclear weapons.