June 27, 2006

North Korea approves US envoy’s visit to factory park

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has approved a visit by the
U.S. envoy for human rights in the communist state to an
investment park that has sparked tensions between Seoul and
Washington, a South Korean official said on Tuesday.

The envoy, Jay Lefkowitz, could visit the Kaesong
Industrial Park as early as next month.

Run by an affiliate of the South Korea's Hyundai group, the
park is located a few hundred meters north of the Demilitarized
Zone that divides the peninsula and is populated by South
Korean companies looking to use the North's cheap labor.

Lefkowitz has said there could be worker exploitation at
the park, but South Korea has criticized him as being "biased
and ill-informed," and suggested he visits.

North Korea has sent a message to the South Korean
government accepting the Lefkowitz visit, the South Korean
official said. A date for the trip has not been decided but
U.S. officials indicated it could take place next month.

Seoul sees the project as a model for the capitalist and
communist economies when the two Koreas unite.

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Alexander Vershbow, said on
Tuesday the South Korean firms at the park should pay their
North Korean workers directly instead of paying their wages to
North Korean officials, who then are charged with dispensing
the money.

This would give the workers a lesson in market economics,
Vershbow said in an Internet discussion with South Koreans.