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Tension Escalates Over Inter-Korean Complex

FILE - The inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex is seen across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North Korea from South Korea in this picture taken from Dora observatory in Paju, 55 kilometers north of Seoul.

Tensions over wage increases for North Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex have risen after Seoul blocked Pyongyang’s attempt to meet directly with representatives of the South Korean companies.

In an apparent attempt to press the companies over its wage demand, North Korean officials tried to convene a meeting with South Korean businessmen who operate in Kaesong. But according to an anonymous official at South Korea’s Unification Ministry, the meeting has not taken place because of objections by Seoul.

Last month, Pyongyang notified Seoul of its decision to raise the minimum monthly wage for its workers from $70.35 to $74.00 starting in March, which was rejected by Seoul immediately.

“Our government will never accept any unilateral regulation changes by the North, and will work very closely with companies with operations in Kaesong to rectify the situation,” said Lim Byeong-cheol, spokesman for the South Korean ministry.

According to an inter-Korean agreement on the complex, wages should be determined through mutual agreement.

The South Korean companies agree with the government’s position.

“I am not saying the rate hike is impossible. But since the business complex is created as a joint project, such a unilateral decision to revise the business guideline is unacceptable,” said Yoo Chang-keun, vice chairman of the South’s Kaesong Industrial Complex Business Association.

In a phone interview with the VOA Korean Service, Yoo warned that the South Korean companies will have no option but to leave the complex if the North continues to breach the guidelines.

The Kaesong complex is just north of the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas. There are more than 53,000 North Korean workers employed by about 120 South Korean factories in the park.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.