South action on Kaesong depends on North’s moves

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South action on Kaesong depends on North’s moves

South Korea will determine the fate of its industrial park in North Korea “at some point” and the decision will depend on the communist regime’s attitude toward the troubled facilities, a senior Seoul official said.

“There will be a judgment at some point on whether the Kaesong Industrial Complex can be maintained or not,” the official at the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, told reporters last Friday on condition of anonymity.

The South’s government will take related measures based on how the North responds, he said.

The future of the industrial town, just north of the heavily armed border between the two Koreas, has been thrown into question as military tensions skyrocket on the peninsula. The South ditched all inter-Korean exchanges except for the Kaesong project in retaliation for the North’s apparent attack on a South Korean warship in March. A North Korean submarine sneaked into the southern waters and torpedoed the 1,200-ton patrol ship the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors, according to an international investigation. Seoul has asked the UN Security Council to discuss penalties against Pyongyang although it denies involvement in the naval disaster.

South Korea also banned local firms from expanding investment in the industrial park, which was created in 2004 during a period of reconciliation between the two sides after a historic summit between their leaders four years before. Once hailed as a symbol of inter-Korean rapprochement and model for economic cooperation between the capitalist South and the communist North, the Kaesong complex has become a thorn in the side of South Korean officials. More than 120 small and mid-sized South Korean manufacturing firms operate there, and closing the complex will cause huge financial damage to them.

The North, upset by Seoul’s punitive measures, expelled South Korean government officials from the industrial zone and threatened to wage war if it is sanctioned for the incident.

Pyongyang, however, stopped short of taking extreme measures such as shutting down the facilities, a rare stable source of money for the cash-strapped regime.

The South Korean official stressed the importance of the safety of hundreds of South Korean workers there.

“When it comes to security of our nationals staying at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the normal situation is that they can go in and out of it as they want,” he said.

He added the North holds the key to putting inter-Korean ties back on the normal track.

“South-North relations will move forward only when North Korea offers an apology for the Cheonan incident, punishes those responsible for it and promises measures to prevent any recurrence,” he said.

He said the government is not yet considering additional actions against North Korea.

The official said the government is paying heed to the North’s plan to hold another session of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) this week.

The North’s parliament had its previous meeting just two months ago.

“It is very unusual” to hold two meetings to close together, the official said. “In that sense, we are paying attention and keeping close tabs (on the event).”

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