North at odds over Kaesong: Source

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North at odds over Kaesong: Source

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Representatives of the businessmen who operate factories in the Kaesong Industrial Complex hold a press conference yesterday at the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Office in Dorasan, Gyeonggi, to call for normal operation of the inter-Korean economic cooperation project. By Ahn Seong-sik

While North Korea continued to impose its entry ban on South Korean workers into a joint industrial zone yesterday for two consecutive days, some sources said there was internal conflict in the North Korean leadership over shutting down the last remaining icon of inter-Korean relations.

The South’s Unification Ministry said that a total of 526 South Korean workers were supposed to commute to the Kaesong Industrial Complex yesterday, but Pyongyang rejected the request to allow them in. A total of 220 South Korean workers returned to the South yesterday and 608 decided to stay to keep their factories operating.

“North Korea once again stated they would reject the entrance of South Korean workers yesterday, through the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee,” a Unification Ministry official told reporters.

Sources told the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday that there was internal friction between the military and the ruling party’s high-ranking politicians over whether to close down the joint industrial zone.

“The North Korean military is strongly demanding to immediately shut the complex, given the tense relations with Seoul,” the source, familiar with North Korean affairs, told the JoongAng Ilbo on condition of anonymity.

But some ruling Workers’ Party officials in charge of inter-Korean cooperation argue that the shutdown of the complex would create a great deal of problems, the source said.

“The ruling Workers’ Party opposed the shutdown, saying it is a matter that would affect the livelihood of the 50,000 [North Korean] workers as well as their 200,000 family members,” the source said.

Some ruling party and cabinet members also claim that keeping the complex running was one of the wills of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

In fact, when the former leader Kim met with late Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju-yung in June 2000, Kim allegedly told Chung that he would “provide Kaesong” to him to build the complex and also offer “300,000 laborers,” by discharging soldiers from their military service.

That comment was alleged by Lim Dong-won, a former National Intelligence Service and Unification Minister, during his lecture at Seoul National University in 2007.

Kim Jong-il’s decision to select Kaesong for the joint inter-Korean park came as a surprise at the time, because the city, close to the border, was considered as a strategically important region for the North military.

Pyongyang told Seoul Wednesday that they would block all South Korean workers and cargo going into the complex, disrupting the ongoing business of 123 South Korean companies in the zone.

The association of the owners of the South Korean firms issued a joint statement yesterday urging the North to withdraw its entry ban.

“We urge North Korea to immediately reopen the complex,” the statement read. “We also ask our government to make efforts for stable business and resume the workers’ entrance.”

The businessmen express concerns that the entry ban would result in a long-running halt of their business.

“I should send gas for a factory boiler by today,” an official working at one of the South Korean firms in the complex, said. “Although our employees are there, they won’t be able to run the factory without turning on the boiler.”

Another official at a different firm also said, “We are running out of supplies in the complex. Unless the North lifts the entry ban on cargo, we will soon have to halt our factory.”

The owners say if the Kaesong complex is closed, the total loss would be up to 6 trillion won ($5.3 billion), including state budget and investment.


By Kim Hee-jin, Lee Young-jong [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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