South Korea protests Kaesong entry ban on two nationals

The Kaesong industrial estate lies just across the border in North Korea.
The Kaesong industrial estate lies just across the border in North Korea.PHOTO: ANDREW SALMON

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea has urged North Korea to withdraw an "unacceptable" ban imposed on two South Korean administrators from entering a joint industrial complex run by both countries, an official said on Thursday (Nov 5).

The Kaesong industrial estate, which lies just across the border in North Korea, is regulated by a joint committee whose members - on the South side - come from the private sector or are former public officials.

Two South Korean committee members were refused entry Tuesday at the border, according to Seoul's unification ministry that handles cross-border affairs.

The North said the two would be denied entry from now on for "opposing the North's policies (on Kaesong) and advocating the position of the South Korean government," said a ministry official who declined to be named.

One of the two was Choi Sang-Chul, a retired ministry official and current vice chairman of the committee.

The Unification Ministry said the South had filed a protest with a senior North Korean official working at the Kaesong complex.

"We complained that the entry unacceptable and was made unilaterally in a clear violation of jointly-set rules on the Kaesong complex," said the official.

According to the South's Yonhap news agency, Choi has been heavily involved in negotiating Kaesong wage and tax issues with the North Korean authorities.

The Kaesong complex - developed by the South Korean conglomerate Hyundai - opened in 2004 and currently hosts about 120 South Korean firms employing some 53,000 North Korean workers.

The estate is a precious source of hard currency for the isolated and impoverished North. The South Korean firms get cheap labour as well as preferential loans and tax breaks from the government.

The vibrant industrial complex has remained largely immune to turbulent swings in inter-Korea politics.

The only exception came in 2013 during a period of heightened cross-border tensions when Pyongyang effectively shut down the zone for five months by withdrawing its workers.