North inspects Kaesong, hinting at restrictions

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North inspects Kaesong, hinting at restrictions

North Korean military officials inspected a joint inter-Korean industrial site this week, which could lead to restriction on cross-border trips for South Koreans.

The Unification Ministry in Seoul confirmed yesterday the North Koreans started the inspection of the Kaesong Industrial Complex Monday. The North’s officials visited Kaesong yesterday, too, and said they would wrap up the inspection on the second trip.

A ministry official, requesting anonymity, said the delegation of eight was led by Pak Lim-su, the policy director of the National Defense Commission, which has direct control over the North’s military.

According to the official, Pak and his team on Monday met with Moon Moo-hong, the South Korean head of the Kaesong Industrial Complex management committee, and complained about South Korean activists sending propaganda leaflets over the border in balloons.

On April 10, North Korea threatened to take “decisive measures” unless the South stopped “the despicable psychological smear campaign,” referring to the leaflets. The North then said it would review whether to maintain an inter-Korean agreement on cross-border trips for South Koreans.

In November 2008, North Korean military officials toured the Kaesong site and announced six days later it would reduce the number of South Koreans permitted to stay in Kaesong during the day and also the number of time slots in which South Koreans could cross the border each day.

That measure was in protest of the South Korean government’s suspension of unconditional fertilizer and rice aid, which it linked to the dismantling of the North’s nuclear weapons program.

More than 100 South Korean companies operating in Kaesong were forced to scale back operations or close down. North Korea lifted the restrictions last August.

North Korea could resort to similar restrictions to pressure the South into agreeing to resume suspended tours to Mount Kumgang, which have been suspended since July 2008. The North expelled employees from the resort and shut down some South Korean-government owned facilities there earlier this month.

Lee Jong-joo, the Unification Ministry spokeswoman, said it was premature to know what the North would do. “We’re keeping an eye on the development,” Lee said. “I understand concerns about restrictive measures. But they haven’t said anything about them yet.”

By Yoo Jee-ho []
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