North Korea blocks South Korean officials from factory park

AP News
Posted: Nov 04, 2015 7:18 AM

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Wednesday blocked two South Korean officials from entering a jointly run factory park in the North over what it described as a conflict between the countries' management committees overseeing the complex.

It wasn't clear why North Korea prevented the officials from South Korea's management committee from entering the Kaesong industrial park, said an official from South Korea's Unification Ministry, who didn't want to be identified, citing office rules. South Korean employees of the factories are commuting normally across the border, the official said.

The South Korean officials prevented from entering Kaesong included the vice chairman of Seoul's management committee, who has been involved in negotiations over wages, taxes and fees, the ministry official said.

The countries struggled for several months over wage levels for North Korean workers employed by the South Korean companies at Kaesong before agreeing on a 5 percent increase in minimum wages in August. The ministry official said the two sides are currently negotiating land usage fees that South Korean companies at Kaesong must pay to North Korea for 2015. Under a previous agreement between the countries, South Korean companies at Kaesong were exempted from land usage fees for 10 years through 2014.

About 120 South Korean factories employ more than 53,000 North Koreans at the Kaesong complex. The factory park opened in 2004 during an era of rapprochement between the rivals, which are still technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

The operation of the industrial park has been disrupted a number of times by turbulent relations between the countries. North Korea temporarily blocked South Korean workers from entering the factory park in 2009 to protest joint military drills by the United States and South Korea.

North Korea withdrew its workers from Kaesong's factories for five months in 2013 during a period of heightened tensions. South Korean companies complained that the withdrawal caused them about $900 million in losses.