Operations halted at Kaesong for N. Korean holiday

Operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex have been halted in observance of North Korea's arbor day holiday, government and business sources said Friday.

The Ministry of Unification and local companies that have plants in the border town just north of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) said the 53,000 North Korean workers did not report for duty on Friday.

They said that while it is not uncommon for firms to ask their North Korean workers to come in on holidays to meet delivery deadlines, the move by Pyongyang on Wednesday to ban entry of people and cargo from South Korea has affected normal operations.

"Without the arrival of new parts and materials, and the need to make full use of trucks that cannot return if they cross over the DMZ, companies must pace their production schedules," a company manager with a factory in Kaesong said.

The representative, who did not want to be identified, said operations can continue as long as there are parts, but pointed out that because of the proximity of Kaesong to South Korea, many businesses did not feel the need to store large stockpiles of parts at the site. He said some companies have resorted to sharing the food they have to help others that are running short.

"At most, the food will probably run out in a week, which would make it hard for South Korean workers to stay at Kaesong," he claimed.

Reflecting such developments, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk confirmed at a press conference that three textile companies have already halted operations for lack of materials.

He also pointed out that if no cargo and food are allowed in the industrial complex, the remaining companies will be forced to halt operations as well.

"Seoul cannot understand the actions taken by the North in regards to banning entry and have consistently asked for the lifting of restrictions," the official said.

Kim said that despite the severing of official hotlines between South and North Korea, there are still some 1,300 private phone lines that are still in operation so the ministry can contact companies directly.

He pointed out that the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee located in the complex is acting as a means to communicate with the North.

The ministry, meanwhile, said that there are currently 608 South Koreans at the park along with six Chinese citizens.

On the first day that the North banned entry, 33 South Koreans returned, with 220 crossing the border the following day.

It said while no one is expected to cross over during the day, 100 South Koreans are planning to return home on

Besides barring entry, the North warned that it could withdraw all of its workers from the park, which would halt all operations.

The North's actions come as international condemnation has mounted over its testing of a nuclear device on Feb. 12 and the launching of a long range rocket late last year. The communist country has even raised issue with the ongoing Foal Eagle joint military exercise, which it sees a dress rehearsal for an invasion.