SEOUL, Jan. 14 (Yonhap) -- The unification ministry said Monday more time is necessary to determine whether to allow a group of businesspeople to visit a shuttered inter-Korean industrial park in North Korea because such a trip needs international understanding and consultations with Pyongyang.
Last week, around 180 businesspeople who once operated plants at the industrial park in the North's border town of Kaesong requested state approval for their trip there Wednesday to check facilities they left behind when it was abruptly closed in 2016.
This marked their seventh attempt to make a trip to the industrial park since its shutdown.
"The government shares the perception that it is necessary (for them) to visit (the industrial park) for the sake of protecting our people's right to property," Baik Tae-hyun, the ministry's spokesperson, told a regular press briefing. "(But) it will take more time to review their request to visit North Korea."
Baik added that it usually takes about a week to complete a review for such a North Korea trip request, but it will take longer for the latest request since the trip to the Kaesong park is a "unique case."
"As you know, the businesspeople's trip to Kaesong involves not just discussions among relevant government agencies but also a process of drawing an understanding from the international community and detailed consultations with North Korea," he said.
Opened in 2004, the Kaesong industrial park was hailed as a successful cross-border economic cooperation project that combines South Korea's capital with North Korea's cheap labor. Critics, however, suspected that the money earned by North Korean workers could be channeled to Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
It was halted unilaterally in February 2016 by the then conservative Park Geun-hye government in retaliation for the North's nuclear and missile provocations.
With the inter-Korean relations warming since the Moon Jae-in government's inauguration in 2017, demand has been growing for reopening suspended cross-border projects, including the Kaesong industrial park.
Sanctions still stand in the way for their resumptions as they ban any economic cooperation with the North.
Observers said that the businesspeople's visit of Kaesong might not be in violation of sanctions, but an "understanding" from Washington, which is wary of making any compensation to the North at a time when there has been little progress in denuclearization talks, is needed.
In his New Year's Day address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed a willingness to resume the operations of the industrial park and a tour program to Mount Kumgang, which was also suspended in 2008 "without preconditions."
Kim, in particular, cited hardship that the South Korean businesspeople are going through due to the shutdown.
Last week, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said that the challenges lying between the Koreas with regard to the suspended cross-border projects have been resolved, saying he will closely coordinate with the international community to resume its operations.
During their September summit, Moon and Kim agreed to "normalize" the operations of the suspended projects as soon as conditions are met, apparently pointing to the need to address the issue of sanctions before their resumption.