NKorea serious about restricting border traffic
By JAESOON CHANG,Associated Press Writer AP - 2 hours 23 minutes ago
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.
Separately, North Korea sent a series of messages to the South confirming the planned measures, according to the ministry, which is responsible for relations between the two nations.
One message, 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.
"We earnestly hope that the South and the North will cooperate so that the landmark projects will be normalized as early as possible," it said in a statement.
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. He said he would be different from his liberal predecessors, accusing them of being too soft on their nuclear-armed neighbor.
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.
Monday's announcement means the last South Korean tour of Kaesong will take place Nov. 30, and that cross-border traffic to the industrial park will be severely restricted.
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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