SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - South Korean business owners are seeking government approval to visit the North to inspect their properties at Kaesong Industrial Complex as news reports said that North Korea is secretly manufacturing clothes at the shuttered inter-Korea industrial complex and selling them at its local markets.
Asia Press International reported that products from the complex are being distributed at North Korean markets without company trademarks or logos. They simply bear the name "industrial complex products", according to Radio Free Asia.
The Tokyo-based media outlet said that it had looked into the distribution process of clothing produced at the Kaesong industrial park in the North's border city of Kaesong with the help of multiple North Korean sources familiar with the matter.
The products are selling well among the rich in the communist state as they are of good quality, albeit more expensive than Chinese goods, the report quoted a source as saying.
The Unification Ministry said that it is looking into the matter.
Pyongyang's alleged reopening of the facilities at Kaesong has been reported before.
"If the reports are true, it is distressing," Mr Shin Han Yong, head of the Kaesong Industrial Complex Association, told The Korea Herald. "For now, we don't know whether the reports are true or not. That's why we have wanted to visit the Kaesong Industrial Complex."
"I hope that the Unification Ministry allows us to visit the site in the North as soon as the Winter Olympics ends."
The association has demanded that the government permit it to send a delegation to inspect their properties at the joint factory park and is pushing to see government approval for a trip to the North between the end of the PyeongChang Winter Games on Feb 25 and the beginning of the Paralympic Games on March 9.
The industrial complex, once a symbol of inter-Korea engagement, was shut down in February 2016 under the conservative Park Geun Hye administration over suspicions that the North was using it to fund its illicit missile and nuclear weapons programmes.
North Korea ordered all South Koreans out of the complex, seized South Korean assets there, and declared the area under military control.
The industrial zone was launched in 2004 some 60km north-west of Seoul, housing 125 South Korean companies and employing 800 South Korean workers and 55,000 North Korean workers in mostly labour-intensive sectors. It was largely financed by the South to increase inter-Korean economic cooperation and all the goods made there were exported to South Korea.
The closure of the factories is estimated to have caused more than 1.5 trillion won (S$1.8 billion) in financial losses so far. The government has offered financial aid worth 517 billion won to businesses in Kaesong. Last November, it promised to provide extra assistance worth 6.6 million won.