NKorea serious about restricting border traffic
By JAESOON CHANG,Associated Press Writer AP - Tuesday, November 25
SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea said Monday it will halt tours of its historic city of Kaesong and stop train service to and from South Korea because of what it said was Seoul's "confrontational" policy toward the communist nation.
North Korea's army also said it will "selectively expel" South Koreans from a joint industrial zone in Kaesong, but stopped short of closing the South Korean-run factories that are a key source of hard currency for the impoverished nation.
Monday's announcement laid out the first concrete measures the North plans to take in implementing its threat to restrict cross-border traffic with the South starting Dec. 1, and marked a new escalation of tension between the two countries still technically at war.
"The South Korean puppets are still hell-bent on the treacherous and anti-reunification confrontational racket," the North said in a message to the South, according to North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency.
"The prospect of the inter-Korean relations will entirely depend on the attitude of the South Korean authorities," the message said, adding that the North's threats are never "empty talk."
South Korea expressed "serious regret" and urged the North to reverse its decision.
"This is a very grave situation that moves South-North relations backward," said Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon.
Kim urged North Korea to resolve problems through dialogue and said Seoul would take "necessary measures" to ensure the safety of South Koreans remaining in the North, but did not elaborate.
Analysts described the positions of both Seoul and Pyongyang as hard-line, and said there won't be any resolution of the standoff unless one side backs down.
"Neither side would budge. They can't help but clash," said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University.
Paik Hak-soon, an analyst at the security think tank Sejong Institute, said that "tension could soar dramatically" if the Kaesong complex is terminated.
Beside the military message, North Korea also sent a series of separate messages to the South confirming the planned measures, according to the ministry, which is responsible for relations between the two nations.
One of them, addressed to South Korean companies operating at Kaesong, said the North will "guarantee" their business activities, though the number of company staff allowed to remain in the zone will be cut, the ministry said.
The North also sent a message to Hyundai Asan Corp., the main operator of the Kaesong city tours and other cross-border projects, saying the tours will be suspended and that any resumption of joint projects depends on Seoul.
The company regretted the North's move, saying it hopes both sides will work together to normalize joint projects.
Relations between the two Koreas have been tense since conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in Seoul in February with a pledge to change South Korea's policy toward the North.
North Korea suspended reconciliation talks and threatened to cut any remaining ties with the South after Lee took office. It also branded Lee a "traitor," "a pro-American sycophant" and "despicable human scum."
Despite the chill in government-level ties, civilian exchanges have continued, with South Korean-run factories continuing to operate in the industrial complex in Kaesong, and Hyundai Asan organizing tours to the city's historic downtown.
A third inter-Korean project _ tours to North Korea's scenic Diamond Mountain _ were suspended after the shooting death of a South Korean tourist in July. The KCNA report said some South Koreans still working at Diamond Mountain will be expelled next month.
The North also said it will halt train service between South Korea and the Kaesong industrial complex _ a symbolic rail line that was one of the first inter-Korean projects during a warming of relations under past South Korean administrations.
Since last year, a South Korean cargo train has made a round trip to Kaesong every day on a reconnected rail line, but has run empty most of the time because companies prefer to use a road running parallel with the railway to ship raw materials and goods.
More than 80 South Korean factories in Kaesong employ about 35,000 North Korean workers.
The city is just north of the border dividing the two countries, which technically remain at war because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
The Kaesong tour program began last December and has drawn about 110,000 tourists.
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