By Kim Sue-young
The government will carefully review North Korea's demand for operational changes at a joint industrial complex in the North Korean city of Gaeseong, Minister of Unification Hyun In-taek said Wednesday.
In Tuesday's inter-Korean government talks, the Stalinist state demanded an increase in wages paid to about 39,000 North Korean workers and for rent to be paid on the use of the industrial estate starting next year. The meeting was the first since the inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak in February last year.
Analysts said giving this kind of notice was part of North Korea's old tactics to pressure Seoul.
``Regarding Pyongyang's calls to adjust existing contracts, we will carefully review them and make a decision after consultation with companies operating in the industrial zone,'' Minister Hyun said during a National Assembly committee session.
A Cheong Wa Dae official also said that Seoul will show greater flexibility when dealing with North Korean issues but will not be left behind by Pyongyang in future negotiations.
Amid growing concerns over the troubled industrial site, ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun stressed it is meaningful that the two Koreas will have additional government-level talks to discuss the issue.
He reiterated that the administration's top concern was the release of a South Korean worker detained in the North for more than three weeks.
The employee identified only by his family name of Yoo has been detained for allegedly making derogatory comments on the North Korean regime and attempting to entice a North Korean female worker to defect to the South.
The North has refused to grant a meeting between the detainee and South Korean officials and lawyers, despite repeated requests.
During Tuesday's 22-minute meeting between officials of the two Koreas, the North ignored the access issue, and called on the South to begin paying rent on the use of the industrial site from next year, instead of 2014 as had been agreed in 2005.
Pyongyang also insisted that South Korean firms should readjust the salary of North Korean workers, considering realistic prices.
Currently, a North Korean worker receives $73 per month at the factories making clothes, watches and other staple products in the industrial park, a symbol of reconciliatory efforts under previous liberal South Korean governments.
A government source said the salary issue was an old tactic to pressure Seoul.
``Previously, it made a similar demand when the Korea Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) conducted a light water-reactor project,'' he said on condition of anonymity. ``Rumors have it that the North wants to get the salary increase to a level similar to that of Chinese workers, but I cannot rule out the possibility of it calling for a higher increase than expected.''
Meanwhile, Pyongyang used harsh rhetoric against Seoul, claiming the South arbitrarily moved a military demarcation line marker.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency said South Korea's army ``recently moved Marker No. 0786 of the Military Demarcation Line'' closer to the northern side in the east.
Seoul called it a false claim. ``We urge North Korea to stop unnecessarily raising tension with groundless claims,'' said Army Col. Park Sung-woo, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.