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DPRK lets S. Korean workers head home

THREE days after shutting down the border, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea partially reopened the crossing yesterday to let South Koreans stranded in a northern industrial zone head home.

But the Republic of Korea's Unification Ministry said North Korea is not yet allowing South Koreans or cargo back across the border to the factories in Kaesong run by southern business managers.

The seemingly arbitrary border restrictions ?? the second in a week ?? have unnerved South Korean business owners who run factories in Kaesong and rely on trucking in raw goods from the South into the North to produce everything from shoes to electronic goods.

North Korea has provided no official explanation for refusing the Kaesong workers entry, but Pyongyang has been backtracking from reconciliation with South Korea over the past year.

Hundreds of South Koreans working at factories in the border town were stuck in the North last weekend after officials shut the crossing last Friday amid heightened tensions on the peninsula.

The South is involved in defense exercises with the United Staes while the North has been threatening to launch a rocket.

North Korea agreed to let 450 South Koreans head home yesterday, the Unification Ministry said. That will leave about 270 South Koreans in Kaesong overnight, the ministry said.

But more than 650 South Korean workers seeking to go to Kaesong yesterday were denied permission to cross the border.

With the prospect of severe short-staffing today, many chose to remain in Kaesong another night, with fewer than 300 returning to the South, the ministry said.

South Koreans run more than 100 factories in Kaesong that employ some 38,000 North Koreans.

The firms give North Korean authorities about US$70-75 cash per worker each month.


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