North and South Korea are drawing a step closer to what some fear may
become the shutdown of a highly symbolic joint industrial project. As
VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, the South is bringing home at
least six of its officials prior to a border closure promised by the
South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun
says government officials will depart the Kaesong industrial park in
North Korea and return home this week.
He says on Friday
afternoon, they will cross the military demarcation line separating the
two Koreas and "pull out" to the South.
The Kaesong park, built
and managed by South Korea, is one of the centerpieces of the South's 10-year effort to engage the communist North peacefully with aid and
investment. However, North-South relations have steadily chilled since
conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in January and
tightened the no-strings-attached generosity of previous
Mr. Lee, whom the North labels a "traitor," has
made South Korean assistance more contingent on Pyongyang's cooperation
on key issues, such as getting rid of its nuclear weapons arsenal.
week, the North suspended a tour program to Kaesong and halted daily
freight train service from the South. A separate tourism program to
the North's Mount Kumgang has been frozen since the North's military
shot a visiting South Korean housewife to death, then refused to
cooperate in an investigation of the incident. Pyongyang has warned it
will completely restrict border crossings by South Korea starting
South Korean Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong told
lawmakers Wednesday he cannot rule out the complete shutdown of the
Kaesong industrial project.
He says he views the possibility of a shutdown as unlikely - but one he cannot eliminate completely from consideration.
adds, North Korea's latest decisions have nothing to do with a hardline
policy by South Korea. Rather, he says, North Korea is unwilling to
resume dialogue with South Korea.
North Korea accuses the Lee
administration of failing to uphold previous North-South agreements
which promise the North billions of dollars in infrastructure
investments and aid. In a radio interview this week, the chairman of
President Lee's conservative ruling party described those agreements as
North and South Korea are still planning to sit
down together next month at multinational talks aimed at ending North
Korea's nuclear weapons capabilities. Those talks also involve the
United States. U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens said
Wednesday any attempt by Pyongyang to isolate South Korea from its
American ally would be unsuccessful.