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North, South Korea inch toward thaw in relations

SEOUL — North and South Korea agreed Sunday to allow factory managers from the South to return to a jointly operated industrial park in the North for the first time in two months, but they said more talks were needed before the park, a symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, could be reopened.

The South Korean factory managers will be allowed to visit the park, the Kaesong Industrial Zone, in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, starting Wednesday to retrieve finished goods and production materials. They also will begin urgent maintenance work on the long-idled factories ahead of the possible resumption of operations.

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“The South and the North reached the agreement to help relieve the difficulties faced by the factory owners while sharing an understanding for the productive normalization of the Kaesong Industrial Zone,” both Koreas said in a joint statement Sunday after overnight negotiations.

The statement said officials from the two sides would meet again Wednesday at Kaesong to discuss the terms of reopening the complex.

The agreement is a sign that the two Koreas are easing tensions and edging toward a thaw after months of hostile exchanges, which reached a peak when the North threatened to attack the South with nuclear weapons and the South countered with warnings of counterattacks.

The Kaesong industrial park, just north of the heavily armed border, had been the last and best-known example of economic cooperation between North and South Korea until the North pulled out its 53,000 workers in April. The South responded by withdrawing its factory managers and engineers at the end of April.

Both Koreas have since locked themselves in a tense standoff that has also become a test of will for the relatively new governments in Pyongyang and Seoul.

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