North Korea maintains access ban to industrial zone


North Koreans attend a rally to support a statement given on Tuesday by a spokesman for the Supreme Command of the Korean People’s Army vowing to cancel the 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War as well as boasting of the North’s ownership of “lighter and smaller nukes” and its ability to execute “surgical strikes” meant to unify the divided Korean Peninsula, at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on March 7, 2013. North Korea vowed to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the United States, amplifying its threatening rhetoric hours ahead of a vote by U.N. diplomats on whether to level new sanctions against Pyongyang for its recent nuclear test. The billboard in background depicts a large bayonet pointing at U.S. army soldiers with writing reading “If you dare invade, only death will be waiting for you!” AP FILE Photo

SEOUL — North Korea refused on Saturday to lift a ban on South Koreans accessing their companies in a joint industrial zone on the North side of the border.

Entry to the Seoul-funded Kaesong complex has been barred since Wednesday, as inter-Korean tensions have risen to their highest level for years.

A few trucks with supplies and raw materials had optimistically turned up early at the border crossing to Kaesong, but turned back after being told the North Korean side was still not allowing any people or vehicles to cross.

South Korean managers have warned that the blocking of raw materials and personnel movement could force them to shut their Kaesong operations in a matter of days.

With the North blocking raw material and personnel movement, four South Korean firms have already suspended their operations, according to the South’s Unification Ministry, Yonhap reported.

The fourth company, producing machinery, halted work Saturday, joining three textile operations that had already closed.

Pyongyang has allowed those South Koreans still inside Kaesong to leave, and 92 crossed back to the South on Saturday, leaving 516 South Koreans in the complex, the ministry said.

There are no cross-border trips on Sundays, but 12 South Koreans have informed the ministry they want to return home Monday.

Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-Jae said Friday that Seoul would consider pulling its citizens out of Kaesong if their situation becomes untenable.

Pyongyang has already threatened to pull out its 53,000 workers hired by 123 South Korean companies there and shut the whole complex down.

Kaesong, which lies 10 kilometers (six miles) inside the North, was established in 2004 and is a crucial hard currency source for North Korea.

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