December 21, 2010 13:30
The Unification Ministry on Monday banned all South Korean citizens from entering the Kaesong Industrial Complex operated jointly with North Korea as the South began annual artillery exercises on Yeonpyeong Island amid heightened military tension.
A total of 614 South Koreans had applied to go to the complex on Monday. The ministry said the ban was effective for Monday only, but it could be extended amid growing tensions with North Korea.
The one-day ban dealt a heavy blow to businesses operating there. Most of the South Korean workers at the complex had returned to the South last week, with only 297 left behind. This meant there were not enough people left to run the factories.
Bae Hae-dong of the business association at the complex, said, "Only a minimum number of workers are left so it's impossible to run the plants."
Some factories halted production when orders dropped following North Korea's artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island last month. One head of a textile company at the complex said, "We couldn't run our factory for a week due to a ban on the entry of workers and materials. A large number of our clients canceled their orders and we haven't received any new ones, so our production lines are idling."
An official at an electronics components factory said, "We need at least three South Korean workers, including a technician, quality controller and facilities manager, but there is only one left. Our assembly lines are running at less than a third of their capacity."
Two months of curbs on entering the complex have heightened fears among businesses over the fate of the joint industrial complex. Stoking them are calls by some South Korean government officials to close down the complex altogether.
"If the U.S. calls for a shutdown of the complex, South Korea will have to listen," said one staffer with a machinery parts maker there. The head of a textile firm said, "Nobody openly talks about closing down the Kaesong Industrial Complex, but more and more workers are mentioning the need for preparation in case the complex is closed down.
Members of the business association visited the ministry on Monday and asked for access to be normalized as soon as possible.
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