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DPRK lets workers across the border

THE Democratic People's Republic of Korea allowed people from the Republic of Korea across the border yesterday to manage factories that are a key source of currency for the country, a day after severing all communications with its rival and barring all traffic through the heavily fortified zone.

On Monday, Pyongyang cut off the only remaining military hotline between the two sides in protest at joint US-ROK military exercises being held at a time of heightened tensions on the peninsula.

That left hundreds of South Korean citizens stranded on both sides of the DMZ, including those who had planned to head back home after work and others seeking to get into the North.

With the hotline still severed, South Korean officials were forced to walk over to the North's border office with written requests for passage. More than 220 South Korean citizens crossed the border yesterday, the officials said.

One citizen said he wasn't too concerned about being able to return home but was worried that he wouldn't have anything to eat.

"I had concerns whether I could have a meal because there's no gas in restaurants" in Kaesong, Kim Moo-ju told reporters after crossing the border.

"I bought instant noodles and drinks and brought them back to my dormitory."

Pyongyang said the hotline would remain suspended throughout the duration of the military drills, which is set to end on March 20. The North also put its 1.2 million troops on alert, state-run media said.

The United States, which has 28,500 military personnel in South Korea, says the drills are routine defense exercises.


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