North may sneak out Kaesong equipment

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North may sneak out Kaesong equipment

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From left to right: Construction work on a light-water reactor in North Korea, a reunion center seized by the North and commuter buses in the Kaesong Industrial Complex. [JOONGANG PHOTO]

The facilities and equipment left behind in the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the last vestige of cooperation between the two Koreas, are likely to be smuggled out and operated by North Korea, following the fate of past failed inter-Korean projects.

It has been two weeks since South Korea shut down the jointly run industrial park in the border city of Kaesong as punishment against the North’s fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and long-range missile launch on Feb. 7.

Under the strict guard of North Korean soldiers, total silence now pervades the factory zone, which was designated a “military control zone” by North Korea one day after the South’s announcement.

With the South’s assets there frozen by Pyongyang, the North is expected to either operate the factories in Kaesong themselves or move facilities and smuggle materials to other places, like the northwestern border city of Sinuiju, without approval from the South.

Including the existing factories, final products, and facilities for communications and electricity, the combined loss for South Korea is expected to stand at more than 1 trillion won ($810 million).

According to a recently disclosed North Korean internal document from 2006, Pyongyang has been preparing capabilities to run the South’s factories and facilities by themselves ever since the factory zone opened in 2004.

The impoverished North has a history of diverting South Korean assets out of joint projects, including the Mount Kumgang tourism program and a light-water reactor construction project.

In July 2008, when South Korean tourist Park Wang-ja was shot to death by a North Korean soldier, Seoul suspended travel to Mount Kumgang. North Korea then seized a reunion center owned by the South Korean government, as well as hotels, golf courses and stores run by South Korean firms, all together worth 360 billion won.

Industry insiders in the South said the North took the equipment from golf courses and buses owned by Hyundai Asan in Mount Kumgang and used them in Pyongyang. Hotels and a reunion center in the resort area have been used for Chinese tourists.

Another major project, the construction of two light-water reactors, kicked off after the United States and North Korea signed the Geneva Agreed Framework in 1994 in return for the North freezing its nuclear program. The project ended in 2006 when the North conducted its first nuclear test.

North Korea seized about 300 pieces of heavy equipment and dump trucks, 6,500 tons of steel bars, and 32 tons of cement, assets totaling 45.5 billion won. The intelligence agencies of South Korea and the United States found that cranes and construction materials provided by the South in the reactor project were used to build the Tongchang-ri missile launch site in North Pyongan Province in 2009.

BY LEE YOUNG-JONG [kim.sohee0905@joongang.co.kr]

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