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North Korea Bars South Korean Workers From Jointly Owned Factories

April 3, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: The mounting hostility on the Korean Peninsula took an economic turn today at a cluster of factories jointly owned by the two countries.

Trucks filled with supplies and South Korean workers waited in long lines at the border with the North today before being turned away. And some already on the other side couldn’t go home.

MAN: People couldn’t return because they were supposed to leave by trucks, which were scheduled to enter the North carrying supplies. However, those trucks couldn’t get into North Korea.

GWEN IFILL: The Kaesong Industrial Park is a rare example of economic cooperation between the two countries. It houses factories for 123 South Korean companies, employs more than 50,000 North Koreans and hundreds more South Koreans who commute across the heavily fortified border each week.

South Korean managers and workers feared the travel ban would cost jobs and hurt business far beyond Kaesong.

SHIM SUNG-MAN, Apparel Maker: It’s very serious. Given the current situation, factory operations could have problems two to three days later, and it will damage deliveries.

GWEN IFILL: South Korea’s unification minister urged Kim Jong-un’s government to reverse its decision.

KIM HYUNG-SEOK, South Korean Unification Ministry Spokesman: North Korea’s measure to suspend the industrial zone is an obstacle to the stable management of the zone. We urge the North to immediately normalize the access to the Kaesong industrial zone.

GWEN IFILL: Today’s border action is the latest response to South Korea’s ongoing joint military exercises with the United States.

It comes a day after North Korea announced it would restart production of nuclear weapon materials. And, today, North Korean state television broadcast an undated video of what it said was an anti-American rally with thousands of students chanting, “Let’s kill.”

South Korea’s defense minister advised the North to tamp down its rhetoric.

KIM KWAN-JIN, South Korean Defense Minister: I am warning North Korea to stop its threats. I want to announce here that we have a full military readiness posture. It is important for the South Korean people not to be agitated by North Korea’s threats, because we have a firm military posture.

GWEN IFILL: And, speaking in Washington today, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the U.S. must remain vigilant.

DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL, United States: I don’t want to be the secretary of defense who was wrong once. So we will continue to take these threats seriously. I hope the North will ratchet this very dangerous rhetoric down.

There is a pathway that is responsible for the North to get on a path to peace, but they have got to be a responsible member of the world community.

GWEN IFILL: Defense Department officials announced this afternoon the U.S. is sending a land-based missile defense system to Guam in response to rising North Korean threats. In the past two days, the Pentagon has also sent guided-missile destroyers to the Western Pacific.