South Korean nationals are denied entry to Kaesong

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South Korean nationals are denied entry to Kaesong

North Korea has denied the entry of two South Koreans into the Kaesong Industrial Complex north of the border, accusing them of representing the interests of the South Korean government and opposing demands by the North.

The Ministry of Unification, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said Wednesday that the North had verbally notified the South Korean government about its decision to ban the two nationals from crossing the border, citing disgruntlement with the South’s management committee for the venture park over the way it had addressed disagreements over operations at the complex.

The North, however, did not specify what it was upset about.

The ministry sent a letter to North Korea urging it to allow the two South Koreans entry, but the North refused to take it on Wednesday.

A ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Thursday that the North’s complaints were still unclear.

“The North’s entry ban is a clear violation of joint agreements that guarantee the safe entry and exit of South Koreans from the joint ventures in the North, regardless of the situation,” the official said.

One of the two South Koreans prohibited from entering the industrial complex is the vice chairman of Seoul’s management committee over the venture park. He was recently involved in negotiations over land use fees and his role in the talks has fueled speculation that Pyongyang is seeking to gain the upper hand.

North Korea has exempted South Korean companies operating in the industrial complex from land use taxes since it opened 11 years ago. But that exemption expires this year and the two sides have been in talks to determine the rate to be imposed on the 124 South Korean companies operating there.

Still, the North’s exact motives for the entry ban remain unclear.

The joint industrial complex remains as the last vestige of inter-Korean cooperation and its operations have been swayed by external factors including military and political tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang.

Disgruntled over Seoul’s North Korea policy, Pyongyang unilaterally shut down the industrial complex in 2013, withdrawing more than 50,000 North Korean workers. It took five months for the joint complex to reopen.

Dealing with North Korean authorities has proven difficult for South Korea. The two sides wrangled earlier this year after Pyongyang unilaterally notified the South that it was raising the monthly wages of its North Korean workers by 5.18 percent, which Seoul said was in violation of the joint agreements that set an annual maximum increase at 5 percent.

After months of squabbling, the two agreed on a 5 percent hike in August, setting the minimum monthly wage at $73.87, up from the previous $70.35.

According to government data, inter-Korean economic trade volume in 2014 stood at $2.34 billion, with 99.8 percent coming from the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

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