Protect Kaesong workersNorth Korea has unilaterally severed a military communications channel, the only means of communication between the South and the North, citing the South Korea?U.S. annual military exercise Key Resolve as the reason. Consequently, travel by South Korean workers who pass through the military demarcation line to go to and from the Kaesong Industrial Complex have stopped. Around 700 civilians who were about to go to the industrial park yesterday could not do so, as they did not receive approval from the North. On the same day some 80 South Koreans had difficulty returning home from the North. This is a serious situation, and we cannot rule out the possibility that 500 or so South Korean workers who remain in the Kaesong complex may become hostages.
As South Korea and the United States have repeatedly emphasized, Key Resolve is a drill for defensive purposes in case of a sudden North Korean military attack on the South. This is not the first year we’ve held the exercise. The South Korean and U.S. military authorities even invited the North Korean military to watch the drill.
Cutting off military communications means that the last channel for the South and the North to communicate in case of an emergency has disappeared. If an accidental clash takes place between the two Koreas, a failure to communicate might mean a war.
Since the Lee Myung-bak administration was launched, Pyongyang has put pressure on Seoul by expelling South Korean authorities from the industrial park, reducing the number of South Korean workers stationed there and imposing strict limits on land travel in and out of the North. Now it has taken the extreme measure of paralyzing the transportation of manpower and goods. The North says that the blackout will only be in effect during the military exercise, but if the situation worsens the safety of South Korean workers stationed in the industrial park could be seriously jeopardized.
The Kaesong Industrial Complex, the symbol of economic cooperation between the South and the North, has stayed on track despite ups and downs. Ninety-three South Korean companies employ 39,000 North Korean workers there. Last year, the industrial park enjoyed $250 million in production, up 36 percent from the previous year. But now we must not cling to its meaning as a symbol. Nothing is more important than the safety of our people. We must take a determined stand and even consider closing the industrial complex completely if that becomes unavoidable for their safety.
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