Work Starts Again at Kaesong Complex

      September 17, 2013 14:47

      Work resumed on Monday in the factories of the Kaesong Industrial Complex for the first time since North Korea closed the border to South Korean workers and goods 166 days ago.

      A government official here said more than 70 percent of the 123 South Korean factories there either held trial runs or resumed full-fledged production. According to the Unification Ministry, 739 South Korean workers headed to the industrial park Monday morning, while 450 of them will stay there.

      Most of the South Koreans are set to work through the Chuseok holiday this week to make the final preparations for production to resume after the break. Apparel maker Shinwon sent 15 workers to the North on Monday who will stay there over Chuseok.

      Already, staff from the South have been working at the industrial park for three weeks to get power lines, water supplies and other infrastructure ready. They say they have almost finished their work, but more time will be needed to put the factories back into full operation.

      A shortage of orders has led to only 60 percent of the North Korean workers, or 32,000, returning to work on Monday. Before work stopped there were around 53,000.

      North Koreans work in a shoe factory in Kaesong on Monday as the industrial complex reopens. /Courtesy of the Unification Ministry

      ◆ Concerns Linger

      Factory owners said the most important thing is to restore trust. "Some of the factories lost 30 to 40 percent of their customers while the complex was closed," said one business owner. "Concerns linger among customers that the complex may be shut down again."

      Some owners worry that the government will try and retrieve its support payments to factories. The Export-Import Bank of Korea has ordered companies that received the money to pay it back by the middle of next month.

      Out of the 123 South Korean factories, 46 accepted support money totaling W148.5 billion (US$1=W1,082). "We already used the support money to repay bank loans, and do not have enough money to run our facilities in Kaesong now," said one apparel maker. "We may have to give up business there due to the repayment burden."

      Yoo Chang-keun, vice-chairman of the Kaesong business association, said, "It is bureaucratic shortsightedness to demand the repayment so soon after work resumes."

      ◆ Utilities Restored

      Korea Water Resources Corporation, which manages the water purification plant at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, began supplying 22,000 tons of water on Monday. Of that amount, 7,000 tons will be supplied to the industrial park and 15,000 tons to the border city itself.

      Six KWRC workers had been traveling back and forth since the middle of last month to inspect facilities and moved there permanently on Sept. 10. "We have made all preparations to supply water at the level prior to the closure," a KWRC official said, adding that its staff will work through the Chuseok holiday.

      KEPCO also resumed the supply of up to 100,000 kW of electricity to the Kaesong complex. A KEPCO official said only 17,800 kW of electricity was consumed on Monday. When in full swing, factories there used an average of 48,000 kW.

      KT, which operates communication lines across the border, has dispatched three staff to the complex last week to prepare for the resumption of work there. Woori Bank, which has a branch at the complex, sent two workers there on Monday to open its doors.

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