중앙데일리

Closed border leaves hundreds trapped in North

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Mar 16,2009
Representatives of businesses operating factories in the Kaesong Industrial Complex express their concerns yesterday at a meeting with Unification Ministry officials as North Korea continued to keep the border shut, stranding South Korean workers in the complex for three days. By Kim Tae-seong


North Korea kept the inter-Korean border closed on Saturday, leaving 427 workers who were scheduled to depart the Kaesong Industrial Complex stranded. There are no cross-border trips on Sundays.

According to South Korea’s Unification Ministry, only six people were allowed to cross the border on Saturday: two Koreans, three Chinese and one Australian. The ministry said as of Saturday night, there were 727 South Koreans staying at the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

The South Korean government on Saturday relayed a message to their northern counterparts urging them to normalize border crossings. But the North has offered no explanation for its action.

Dongguk University’s North Korean studies professor Kim Yong-hyun called the stranded Kaesong workers “hostages,” claiming “North Korea is using Kaesong as collateral and this could go on for an extended period.”

Yun Duk-min, head of the department of national security and unification studies at the Institute for Foreign Affairs and National Security, indicated that the way the North selected only a few individuals to cross the border seems politically motivated and can turn into a hostage situation.

Meanwhile, Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for the South Korean Unification Ministry, said the South doesn’t regard the development as a hostage situation but instead “sees it as something we can control.”

Unification Minister Hyun In-taek yesterday met with representatives of South Korean businesses operating in Kaesong. Hyun said the North’s “unilateral gesture” only “damages the inter-Korean agreement” on the overland link.

“I believe the essence of the Kaesong complex is to allow open traveling by businesses and to help them operate smoothly,” the minister said. “It’s important to ensure that Kaesong isn’t affected by the political, military and security situations on the peninsula.”

As for the government’s response to the situation, Hyun said, “We will keep a close eye on the issue and prepare appropriate measures as necessary.”

The business representatives, though, remained concerned. Kim Hyang-hee, one of the two Koreans who made it back home on Saturday, said the protracted closure could affect production at plants north of the border.

“Factories could soon lose their supply channel for raw materials necessary for their production,” said Kim, who’s been an employer at an electronic parts manufacturer in Kaesong since 2007. She was allowed home because her wedding was scheduled yesterday.

“Also, finished products can’t make it to the South. But I heard nothing from North officials. They’re all acting normal.”

Both the governing Grand National Party and the opposition Democratic Party yesterday urged the North to open the border.

In a statement, GNP lawmaker Park Jin, head of the National Assembly’s Unification, Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee, said the Kaesong Industrial Complex is “a symbol of inter-Korean cooperation” adding, “Guaranteeing workers’ cross-border travel is essential to the success of the complex.”

Democratic Party spokesman Noh Young-min said the North’s action threatens the peace on the peninsula and also the future of inter-Korean economic cooperation.

Protesting the annual, 12-day South Korea?U.S. joint military drills that began last Monday, the North severed military communication lines with the South and halted cross-border trips. That move stranded 80 South Koreans north of the border and 726 South Koreans canceled their trips to the North. The disconnected communication channel used to relay permission for crossing.

The border opened the following day, though the communication line remained shut. Then on Friday, North Korea once again shut down the border.


By Yoo Jee-ho, Jeong Yong-soo Staff Reporter [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]



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