SEOUL — A group of South Korean lawmakers on Friday paid a rare visit to a jointly run industrial estate in North Korea, but there was no meeting scheduled with Pyongyang officials.
The eight lawmakers from the conservative ruling party and the liberal opposition crossed the heavily fortified border into the North for a day-long trip to the industrial complex at Kaesong City.
"This trip will help develop dialogue and cooperation between the South and the North," Kim Choong-Whan, a ruling-party member who heads the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, told journalists.
It is the first time that ruling and opposition lawmakers have visited Kaesong together. A party of opposition members went in 2008 and a former ruling-party head, Hong Joon-Pyo, visited last year.
The ruling New Frontier Party, formerly known as the Grand National Party, has hinted it could relax its hardline stance towards the communist North to ease tension on the Korean peninsula.
The legislators plan to meet South Korean company officials at the Kaesong complex just north of the border and tour the estate before returning home in the afternoon.
But there is no planned meeting with the North's officials, the Unification Ministry in Seoul said.
Despite years of high political and military tensions, the Kaesong estate -- which brings together South Korean capital and expertise with the North's cheap labour -- is thriving.
More than 50,000 North Koreans, mostly women, work at 123 South Korean firms producing clothes, utensils, watches and other items. Last year production was worth a record $400 million.
Kaesong is a legitimate source of hard currency for the impoverished and sanctions-hit North. Supporters of the project say it also serves to educate the communist state about the free-market system.
Relations have been icy since the South accused the North of responsibility for two deadly border incidents in 2010. There has been no immediate shift in ties since the death of Kim Jong-Il in December.
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