September 27, 2011 / 10:54 AM / 9 years ago

South Korea party chief to make rare visit to North

Hong Joon-pyo (front), leader of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP), leaves after a meeting in Seoul December 30, 2008. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak/Files

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea’s ruling party chief said on Tuesday he will visit North Korea this week to meet business owners who operate factories at a joint industrial park just north of the rivals’ armed border in a rare move by the conservatives.

The ruling Grand National Party has backed President Lee Myung-bak’s hardline position demanding an apology from the North for two deadly attacks against the South last year before ties can be normalised.

But GNP chief Hong Joon-pyo has recently called for efforts to try to mend commercial ties and restore humanitarian aid to the impoverished North as a way to encourage Pyongyang to reciprocate with actions to ease tensions.

Hong said he plans to meet the South Korean businessmen who run factories in the Kaesong industrial park making pots, cosmetics cases and clothes using cheap North Korean labour and land.

South Korea blames the North for a torpedo attack against one of its navy ships last year that killed 46 sailors in the waters near their disputed naval border. The North denies involvement.

An artillery attack on a South Korean island later in the year killed four people.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry which handles ties with the North said it has approved Hong’s visit.

The Kaesong park is the only joint project now in operation as the rival Koreas’ ties chilled after Lee took office. It employs more than 46,000 North Korean workers.

Work on the park began in 2003 as part of a liberal South Korean government’s push to engage the North as a model of future economic cooperation between the two states, which remain technically at war under a truce ending the 1950-53 Korean War.

Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani

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