Officials from the two Koreas met Monday in North Korea to discuss their joint industrial complex just days after an exchange of gunfire at sea emphasized the fragility of the peace between them.
North Korea lobbed dozens of shells toward the western sea border last week, prompting South Korea to respond with a barrage of warning shots. Pyongyang called it a military exercise, and South Korean officials reported no casualties or damage.
Two no-sail zones ordered by North Korea early last week just before the fracas remain in place, and on Monday the Yonhap news agency in Seoul said Pyongyang issued notices for five new no-sail zones: four off the west coast and one off the east.
The poorly marked sea border is a constant source of tension between the Koreas. Their navies fought a skirmish in November that left one North Korean sailor dead and three others wounded, and engaged in bloodier battles in the area in 1999 and 2002.
Despite the flare-up in tensions, officials met at the North Korean border town of Kaesong as scheduled Monday to discuss their joint factory park in their first working-level talks on the issue since July, Seoul's Unification Ministry said.
North Korean officials repeated a demand to put wage hikes on the agenda while the South argued the talks must focus on easing border crossings and customs clearances for South Korean workers, ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said.
Since 2004, the Kaesong complex has combined South Korean capital and know-how with cheap North Korean labor — a key symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. About 110 South Korean factories at Kaesong employ some 40,000 North Korean workers.
However, tensions between the Koreas last year put the project in jeopardy. The two Koreas technically remain in a state of war because their three-year conflict ended in 1953 with a truce, not a peace treaty.
On Monday, the North repeated its call for a peace treaty, criticizing Washington for raising tensions by keeping troops in South Korea and cementing its military alliance with Seoul.
The U.S. policy is "nothing but an attempt to stifle (North Korea) by force and to hold unchallenged military hegemony in the region," North Korea's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
The commentary referred to remarks made last month by Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, who said Washington is working with South Korea to modernize their defense alliance and must maintain a forward-deployed military presence in the region.
Campbell meets with officials in Tokyo and Seoul this week to discuss bringing North Korea back to disarmament talks.
After months of tension with Seoul and Washington, the nuclear-armed North has been reaching out in recent months.
North Korean officials joined South Korean officials in touring industrial parks in China and Vietnam in December, and held discussions in Kaesong last month to assess the joint trip.
Officials from the two Koreas also met secretly in November to discuss a possible inter-Korean summit, but failed to make a breakthrough, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper said Monday, citing unidentified government and ruling party officials.
South Korea's Unification Ministry and the ruling Grand National Party said they could not confirm the report.
President Lee Myung-bak told the BBC in an interview aired Friday from Davos, Switzerland, that a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il "could probably" take place within the year.
Lee's office said the president was only repeating his willingness to meet Kim at any time if such a summit promotes peace on the peninsula and North Korea's nuclear disarmament.
Kim met Lee's two predecessors in summits in North Korea in 2000 and 2007. Lee, however, has taken a tougher approach toward North Korea since taking office in 2008.
AP Television News cameraman Yong-ho Kim contributed to this report from Dorasan Station, South Korea.
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