SEOUL, Feb. 7 (Korea Bizwire) – South Korea said Sunday it will further restrict the entry of its nationals to a joint industrial park in North Korea in response to the North’s long-range rocket launch.
The Unification Ministry said that it will reduce the number of South Koreans staying at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North to about 500 from the current 650.
Seoul’s move is at a similar level as that in August last year when inter-Korean tension heightened following a land-mine blast along the border blamed on the North and the two Koreas’ exchange of fire.
“The government plans to review the necessary steps including the operation of the industrial complex,” the ministry said in a statement.
Earlier in the day, North Korea launched a long-range rocket carrying what it claims is an earth observation satellite, a move that Seoul and Washington view as a cover for a test of intercontinental ballistic missile technology.
South Korea has already imposed an entry limit on its people to the factory zone in the North to secure the safety of South Koreans staying there following North Korea’s nuclear test on Jan. 6. A total of 124 South Korean firms are operating at the complex.’
Seoul’s move rekindles concerns that an extension of inter-Korean tensions sparked by the North’s nuke test may lead to a temporary closure of the complex.
In April 2013, the North shut down the complex for about four months, citing what it called heightened tensions sparked by a military drill between Seoul and Washington. The two Koreas agreed not to shut it down again “under any circumstances,” when they decided to reopen it.
Seoul had warned that Pyongyang will pay a severe price if it goes ahead with the rocket launch.
The government said that it is not considering a temporary closure of the factory zone or withdrawal of its people from there, but it also added that further restrictive measures cannot be ruled out.
The South Korean firms at the complex remained skittish over the repercussions of the North’s nuke and missile tests on their business activities.
“It is not right that the North’s nuke issue causes a possible closure of the factory park,” said Jeong Gi-seob, chairman of the Corporate Association of Kaesong Industrial Complex.
A group of small and medium-sized enterprises called on the government to help local firms focus on their business without being disturbed, stressing that the complex should remain intact as the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation.
The industrial complex, which opened in 2004, has served as a major revenue source for the cash-strapped North, while South Korea has benefited from cheap but skilled North Korean labor.
“The government will continue to suspend civilian inter-Korean exchanges or an approval of South Koreans’ visits to North Korea,” the ministry said.
South Korean nationals need Seoul’s approval as well as the North’s consent for a trip to the communist nation. The sides still technically remain in a state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.