- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 15, 2009

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) - South Korea’s ruling party and several of the nation’s companies urged North Korea on Sunday to end its ban on border crossings by workers at a joint industrial park, while Seoul called the ban regrettable.

North Korea first closed the border on March 9 after cutting off the only remaining hot line with the South 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 hot line to coordinate the passage of people and goods through their heavily fortified border.

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

The North’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 urged the North to end the ban.

The corporate council made up of South Korean companies working in Kaesong also called on the North to immediately normalize border traffic, saying in a statement that the North’s move led to a “complete paralysis of business operations” in the complex.

The North, however, allowed a South Korean construction worker suffering from spinal cord disease to cross the border into the South on Sunday evening, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said. No details were given.

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 North announced plans to launch a satellite, which many regional powers suspect is a cover for a test of long-range missile technology.

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 South Korean technology and management expertise with North Korea’s cheap labor. It has been a key source of much-needed hard currency for the impoverished North. The more than 100 South Korean factories in Kaesong employ about 38,000 North Korean workers.

Nearly 730 South Koreans were stuck in the Kaesong complex Sunday but all were believed to be safe, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.

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

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