Safety of S.Koreans at Kaesong Complex Is a Serious Concern

      May 19, 2010 12:23

      The Unification Ministry said Monday it has asked about a dozen government agencies including the ministries of planning and strategy, health and welfare and the Korea Forest Service, to suspend business projects involving North Korea by freezing related budgets. Last week, the Unification Ministry advised companies involved in businesses with the North to halt production and the signing of new contracts. This prompted South Korean businesspeople in North Korea to return to the South. The government plans to implement various sanctions against North Korea after announcing on Thursday the results of an investigation into the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan.

      But the government has not mentioned any measures that would affect the joint industrial complex in Kaesong. At present, some 890 South Koreans work there. The government has apparently excluded the complex from targets of sanctions given its symbolic significance and to avoid being criticized for being the first to damage inter-Korean relations if it evacuates South Korean workers even temporarily.

      Around 42,000 North Korean workers live and work in the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the North makes more than US$40 million a year from the project. That is a significant amount for a country whose economy is on its knees, which is why experts say the North will also be loath to take drastic steps against the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

      But North Korea is already bristling. Yang Hyong-sop, the vice president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, said, "We will not tolerate the confrontations and warmongering schemes of the puppet regime of South Korea." The North Korea's military issued a statement on Sunday saying it could limit travel "along the east and west coast" -- the land routes used for tours to Mt. Kumgang and the Kaesong complex -- if South Korean activists insist on sending some 500,000 propaganda leaflets to the North as planned on Wednesday. The situation raises serious concerns about the safety of South Koreans at the Kaesong complex.

      If the government implements sanctions against North Korea, there is no telling how far tensions are going to rise. North Korea vowed revenge after it was ignobly defeated in November in a skirmish the North provoked. On March 26, a North Korean torpedo duly sank the 1,200-ton South Korean warship Cheonan. We have seen North Korea put its threats into action. It is capable of resorting to fanatical actions even if its best interests lie elsewhere. The government needs to heed North Korea's threats and prepare to deal with them immediately.

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