North Korea has proposed a dialogue with South Korea over reopening the shuttered Kaesong joint industrial zone, a key area of inter-Korean trade where about 120 South Korean manufacturers employ 53,000 North Koreans, reports the BBC.
North Korea’s state news agency carried the message in a statement released Thursday. “We propose holding talks between authorities of the North and the South for the normalization of the operation in the KIZ [Kaesong Industrial Zone],” said the statement.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry responded by saying it “positively views” the request.
According to the New York Times, these would be the first inter-Korea dialogues since North Korean soldiers shot and killed a South Korean tourist in 2008.
The industrial zone has been closed since April, when North Korea cut its communications with South Korea because of worsening relations in the wake of North Korea’s Feb. 12 nuclear test. Goods produced in the zone are exported to South Korea and sold there, according to a BBC Q&A on the area. It produced $470 million in goods last year, making it the biggest contributor to inter-Korean trade.
Previously, North Korea repeatedly rejected the South’s calls for talks to reopen the space, so the North's request Thursday came as a surprise, according to the New York Times.
Reopening the Mount Kumgang tourism resort, a joint effort that was suspended in 2008, and allowing families separated by the Korean War to reunite are also topics for debate in the proposed talks.