Seoul, South Korea (VOA) – A representative of South Korean companies operating in the Kaesong Industrial Complex, who were denied access to the site, for a second day, called on the North to lift a ban on South Korean workers’ entry to the complex.
“In my opinion, this week is the limit that we can possibly bear. If the ban is not lifted by next Monday, the situation would be deteriorated, which would lead to suspension of operation or a development that cannot be handled by us,” said Ok Sung-seok, vice-chairman of The Corporate Association of Kaesong Industrial Complex (CAKIC), an association of South Korean tenant businesses, in a telephone interview with VOA’s Korean Service on Thursday. VOA reached Ok in Seoul.
On Wednesday, the North barred South Korean workers from entering the complex, allowing South Korean workers in the North to leave.
The move is seen as a follow-up to the North’s earlier threat to shut down the complex.
Last week, as a protest to what it descried as South Korean insults the North threatened that it could close down the complex.
The insults that the North referred to were not specifically known but analysts in Seoul believe South Korean media reports that suggested the North kept the complex open to obtain hard currency might have angered the North.
According to South Korea’s Unification Ministry, as of Thursday over 200 South Korean workers returned to the South, making the number of South Korean workers still in the complex 608.
Ok said most companies are in operation despite the restriction although many companies are facing difficulties due to shortage of supplies, even some basic needs.
“Food will be running out if the situation continues through next week and this will become a serious problem.”
Ok said the companies are doing all they can to keep operation running although three companies suspended operation because they ran out of gas.
On the safety of workers in the complex, Ok said “as of now, there aren’t any problems.”
Ok said he was able to communicate to the workers through landline phones assigned to the companies.
Earlier, the North cut off official communications channels with the South, including a military hotline that has been essential in operating the complex.
The Kaesong complex, located six miles north of the heavily fortified border, employs over 53,000 North Korean workers and is home to 123 South Korean businesses.
Ok said there were no “noticeable changes” in the North Korean workers’ attitudes toward the South Korean workers because of the latest development.
“It is pretty much the same before and now. Also, there is no change in the atmosphere as well as any noticeable changes in attitudes of North Korean employees.”
The inter-Korean complex mainly invested by the South has been the last symbol of cooperation between the two Koreas, who are still technically at war.
The two sides agreed on building the complex in June 2000 as part of an agreement from the first inter-Korean summit at the time.
The complex has been producing various goods, from textiles to kitchen utensils, since its operation in 2004, with more than $90 billion in an accumulated output so far.
The North could lose more than $90 million a year in cash that it collects for the North Korean workers’ wages if it proceeds with the threat to shut down the complex.
Ok called for a quick normalization of passage of people and materials to the complex, urging both governments to handle the matter separately from inter-Korean politics.
“The Kaesong complex is not a place for politics. It is an industrial complex for entrepreneurs where they produce goods.”
Reported in Korean by Kim Hwan Yong for VOA Korean Service. Written in English by Jennifer Yoo.
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