SEOUL — A group of South Korean lawmakers will pay a rare visit this week to a jointly run industrial estate in North Korea despite political tensions, Seoul announced Monday. The North told the South in a message Sunday that it would accept the trip by the eight legislators, who handle either inter-Korean relations or foreign affairs, said unification ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-Suk. The ministry must authorize all cross-border contacts. The legislators will meet South Korean company officials at the Kaesong complex just north of the border Friday and tour the estate before returning home in the afternoon. Kim said there was no scheduled meeting with the North’s officials. Despite years of high political and military tensions, the estate — which brings together South Korean capital and expertise with the North’s cheap labor — 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 US$400 million.
Kaesong serves as a legitimate source of hard currency for the impoverished and sanctions-hit nation. 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.