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Seoul eases restrictions on industrial park in N.Korea

Published: March 6, 2012 | 7:57 am
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SEOUL — South Korea eased restrictions on a jointly run industrial estate in North Korea, allowing firms to replace old equipment despite simmering political tensions.
The move is aimed at helping South Korean firms to work out problems with operating factories in Kaesong estate just north of the heavily fortified border, said the unification ministry, which handles cross-border affairs.
“From this week, firms there will be allowed to replace old facilities,” spokeswoman Park Soo-Jin told AFP on Tuesday.
But the South will maintain tight economic sanctions slapped in May 2010 after Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing a warship with the loss of 46 lives, she said.
“Our government will continue to ban the establishment of new factories or expanding investment in the estate.”
Company owners have urged Seoul to ease restrictions on the number of workers and on bank loans and to improve facilities.
The ministry said it is also considering expanding bus routes for North Korean workers in the estate, which has served as a legitimate source of hard currency for the impoverished North since it opened in 2004.
More than 50,000 North Koreans, mostly women, work for South Korean firms producing clothes, utensils, watches and other items. Last year production was worth a record $400 million.
Pyongyang has taken a consistently hostile tone towards Seoul since Kim Jong-Un took over as leader after his father Kim Jong-Il died of a heart attack on December 17.
The North vows never to deal with the South’s conservative leaders, accusing them of disrespect during mourning for the North’s late leader.

AFP

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