Kaesong complex-workers

SEOUL, April 1 (Yonhap) -- The Kaesong Industrial Complex remained operational on Monday despite North Korea's recent threat to close the joint economic zone in the communist country.

The Ministry of Unification said the North approved the movement of personnel and cargo through the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee (KIDMAC) earlier in the day. Seoul has been contacting the KIDMAC, an office jointly staffed by South and North Korea, to get confirmation for the daily movement of workers over the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas. In the past, communication was handled through a military hotline, but the North cut off the hotline on Wednesday.

"The North gave its approval for South Koreans to cross over the DMZ at 8:30 a.m.," said ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk. He said for the entire day 853 people are expected to head for Kaesong and 355 are scheduled to return.

The official added that Seoul viewed recent developments as being very grave and called on the North to change so inter-Korean relations can become "future oriented" and bright.

"The current situation should not be viewed as the end of the road, and that the Kaesong complex should be used as a conduit to help the two Koreas to move forward," he told reporters. He pointed out that Seoul's goal is the stable management of the economic zone.

"Threats by the North are not good for cross-border relations or the future of the complex," he said, pointing out that a 24-hour response team has been set up to track all developments, with emphasis placed on the safety of South Korean nationals working at Kaesong.

Many workers who crossed the DMZ admitted they are more worried than usual in light of heightened tensions caused by the North's detonation of its third nuclear device on Feb. 12 and the ongoing Foal Eagle annual joint military exercises conducted by Seoul and Washington.

"The greatest concern is about being detained in the North if Pyongyang really opts to close the industrial complex," one worker who is employed at a textile firm said. Another said if Kaesong is closed, it can seriously cripple the company he works for and endanger the livelihoods of the South Korean employees.

Pyongyang, meanwhile, citing provocations from the South and efforts to "tarnish the image of the DPRK," warned Saturday that it may shut down the industrial complex. The DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.

South Korean policymakers have repeatedly made clear the country does not plan to take action against the complex even as it works with other nations to tighten sanctions against Pyongyang for its latest nuclear test that has been condemned by the United Nations. Seoul has urged the North to carefully consider any action that can jeopardize operations that not only affect South Korean companies but North Korean workers as well.

Kaesong provides the impoverished country with US$87 million in cash earnings each year, mainly through wages of workers, and may provide support for more than 250,000 people comprising workers and their family members.

The complex remains the only economic link between the two Koreas, after Seoul banned all other cooperative tie-ups following the sinking of one of its warships by a North Korean torpedo in March 2010.

The complex is considered the crowning achievement of the 2000 inter-Korean summit meeting between late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-il. There are currently 123 South Korean companies operating at Kaesong. These firms employ about 800 South Korean workers and more than 53,000 North Korean laborers to make various goods.

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