- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) - North Korea informed Seoul on Friday it will restore a military communications hot line severed last week but closed the border dividing the two Koreas for the third time in recent days, South Korean officials said.

The North Korean military cut the communications line on March 9 to protest Seoul’s decision to go ahead with 12 days of joint military exercises with U.S. troops across South Korea at a time of heightened tension on the peninsula.

Washington and Seoul call the war games routine defense drills; Pyongyang accused the two nations’ militaries of preparing to attack the North.

The exercises ended Friday, and the North said it would reconnect the hot line starting Saturday morning, Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said.

“We will again restore the North-South military communications,” said a message faxed to South Korean border officials.

At the same time as it cut off communication, North Korean officials also shut down the border last Monday, refusing to let South Korean workers commute to and from jobs in an industrial park in the border town of Kaesong.

The move left hundreds stranded in Kaesong for the night until the North agreed to open the border to traffic again the next day.

A second border shutdown a week ago forced hundreds of South Koreans to stay the weekend in Kaesong. North Korea allowed partial passage Monday before fully opening the border the next day.

The North Korean military again refused South Korean workers passage Friday through the border crossing, Lee said.

The repeated closures have raised questions about the future of the Kaesong industrial complex, a joint economic venture hailed as a promising example of inter-Korean cooperation.

More than 100 South Korean companies operate factories that rely on goods trucked in from the South to produce everything from shoes to kitchenware using North Korean labor. With North Korean-mandated border restrictions already in place, only a skeleton staff of South Korean workers has been allowed to commute into Kaesong.

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