SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea said Saturday that it would not even consider talking with South Korea, lashing out at Seoul for criticizing the isolated country's human rights record.
South Korea had been planning to propose talks on the two countries' troubled joint industrial complex, but the statement put any such talks in doubt.
Relations between the sides have significantly deteriorated since Seoul's conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in February last year. Since then, reconciliation talks were cut and all key joint projects — except the factory park in Kaesong just north of the border — were suspended. In late March, the North detained a South Korean worker for allegedly denouncing the communist country's political system — a further strain on ties.
Seoul's Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said he still believes the North will agree to a meeting about the factory park because it would address Pyongyang's demand that the South pay more for using its workers and the land at the zone.
But Kim said the North could try to limit the talks only to issues related to its demand while refusing to discuss the fate of the worker or other broader issues about improving their relations.
Last month, the rivals held their first government-level meeting since Lee took office. But the talks, which lasted less than 30 minutes, produced little progress as the North refused to free the worker and made the demand for a raise in worker wages and land charges.
"There is no room for even considering dialogue between the South and the North," the North's committee for South Korean affairs said in a statement, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
It accused the South of trying to sully its reputation by calling attention to North Korea's "nonexistent" human rights abuses. The statement pointed to a South Korean human rights envoy's suggestion that his government establish refugee camps to house fleeing North Koreans.
Pyongyang often bristles at any talk of its human rights record and claims such accusations are part of U.S. efforts to topple the regime.