South and North Korea engaged in working-level talks Thursday to discuss ways to better protect rights of South Korean workers at the inter-Korean factory park in Kaesong, a government official said.
The Ministry of Unification said the sub-panel meeting touched on issues related to legal and administrative matters governing treatment of South Koreans who can be detained for breaking the law while working at the Kaesong Industrial Complex.
"Issues such as the right to be questioned in the presence of a South Korean representative and basic civil rights protection for those detained are on the agenda," an official said.
However, the official, who wished to remain anonymous, said that more time may be needed to iron out all details that are primarily legal in nature.
Official sources said differences in the legal systems of South and North Korea and the definition of legal counsel protection have held up two previous rounds of negotiations.
The ministry official, meanwhile, said the North has yet to explain why it abruptly called off sub-panel talks to deal with differences on communications, travel and customs that were scheduled for Thursday.
"The North has not offered a clear explanation, but South Korean officials will broach the matter at today's talks," he said. He also pointed out that the communication issue cannot be delayed forever since the two sides already agreed to resolve this matter by the end of the year.
The communications panel was set up under the new joint management committee to ensure sustainable growth of Kaesong and allow it to become an international business hub.
The official said that depending on what progress is made, another joint management committee meeting can be arranged to discuss remaining issues and ink an agreement. The committee is a byproduct of the landmark Aug. 14 agreement that permitted the reopening of the complex early last week.
In the past the industrial complex was controlled by the North's General Bureau for Central Guidance to the Development of the Special Zone. This one-sided control effectively permitted Pyongyang to close down the factory park in early April amid spike in tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
On communications, the two sides have already exchanged views on using radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to facilitate movement of people and cargo to and from the business zone, as well as the need to permit Internet connectivity for South Korean factories and allow workers to use mobile phones.
North Korean watchers have said Internet and mobile phones can provide fresh revenue for the communist country, although it can pose security challenges for a country that strictly controls all inflow of information from and contact with the outside world.