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South Korean firms operating in the Gaesong Industrial Complex were perplexed Wednesday by North Korea’s abrupt ban on South Korean workers entering the inter-Korea industrial park, expressing concern over the possibility of the ban extending indefinitely.
Currently, 123 South Korean firms manufacture goods in the complex with about 15,000 South Korean and 54,000 North Koreans employees working there.
“There is no immediate impact from the entry ban because they don’t need the supply of raw and subsidiary materials every day,” said an official from clothes maker Shinwon. “But production can be hit hard if the ban continues for a long period of time.”
The concern comes after Pyongyang suddenly announced it would allow South Koreans currently staying at the complex to return home but not let them reenter the industrial park.
Despite that announcement, the Gaesong Industrial District Management Committee (KIDMAC) in the border town informed Seoul that South Korean plants at the complex were operating normally.
South Korean firms, however, are concerned a prolonged entry ban could damage their business, as the ban came amid an escalation in tension between the North and South in past months.
Another official from a separate South Korean firm said the ban would impede normal operations at the site and could strike a severe blow to the firm’s exports.
“If this lasts long, our production can be halted and we cannot meet the deadlines for shipment,” he said. “We don’t know what to do now. The worst scenario would be the shutdown of our plant, and we hope that will not happen.”
Representatives from South Korean firms at the complex held an emergency meeting at the Corporate Association of the Gaesong Industrial Complex in Seoul to discuss measures to cope with the situation.
“We didn’t expect this would happen,” said the association’s chairman Han Jae-kwon. “The first priority is the safety of our employees at the complex. We will come up with additional measures after knowing what is going on there.”
He also said they will ask Pyongyang to allow the transportation of food to workers from the South at the site. Another official from a local firm with a plant in Gaesong said there is a possibility the ban may lead to the complete shutdown of the complex.
“There is a slim chance of Pyongyang shutting down the complex, but it is obviously a concern. I hope the two Koreas will stop this unnecessary political dispute soon.”