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ROK urges DPRK to reopen border near industrial park

THE Republic of Korea's ruling party and several of the country's companies urged the Democratic People's Republic of Korea yesterday to end its ban on border crossings by workers from a joint industrial park.

The DPRK first closed the border on March 9 after cutting off the only remaining hotline with the ROK to protest its ongoing military drills with the United States. The North says the exercises are a rehearsal for an invasion. The two Koreas use the hotline to coordinate the passage of people and goods through their heavily fortified border.

North Korea reopened the border on Tuesday but closed it again on Friday, stranding hundreds of people working in the Kaesong complex.

North Korea's move is "very regrettable," Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said at a meeting with South Korean business owners who run factories in the sprawling complex. South Korea's ruling Grand National Party, meanwhile, urged North Korea to end the ban.

South Korean companies working in Kaesong also called on North Korea to immediately normalize the border traffic, saying the DPRK's move had led to a "complete paralysis of business operations" in the complex.

The two Koreas are still technically at war because their 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Tension on the peninsula has intensified in recent weeks after the DPRK announced plans to launch a satellite, which many regional powers suspect is a cover for the test-firing of a long-range missile.

The border restrictions have caused jitters among South Korean business owners at the complex.

"I have not decided whether I should build more factories ... as the situation keeps deteriorating," said Yoo Byeong-gi, head of television parts maker BK Electronics.

The complex combines Seoul's technology and management expertise with Pyongyang's labor.

It has been a key source of much-needed hard currency for North Korea. More than 100 South Korean factories in Kaesong employ about 38,000 North Koreans.

Nearly 730 South Koreans were still stuck in the Kaesong complex yesterday but they were all believed to be safe, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.

Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il inspected a military unit and watched its firing exercise, the official Korean Central News Agency said yesterday, without specifying when and where.


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