A band of Korea brothers bids farewell in a Cold War zone

Wed Apr 10, 2013 5:18pm EDT
 
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By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - The hidden human face of North Korea's decision to shutter an industrial park it ran with Seoul is its 53,000-strong workforce. At the Kaesong industrial zone, North Korean workers earned regular wages and formed bonds with their southern compatriots, even flirting once in a while.

North Korea's most skilled laborers have kept South Korean factories at the park humming for nearly a decade, at the same time putting food on the tables of an estimated 200,000 people in one of the world's poorest countries.

Kaesong was also the only place where people from the two Koreas mixed following the closure of a joint mountain resort in 2008 during an earlier bout of tension on the Korean peninsula.

As ties between the two Koreas worsened in the wake of Pyongyang's February 12 nuclear test, some North Korean workers at Kaesong spoke about their fears for the future.

"We've talked with each other a bit," said Shin Dong-chul, a 55-year old South Korean truck driver who last left Kaesong on March 30. "Although we didn't say a lot, they were also worried ... about their work."

Pyongyang suspended activity at Kaesong on Monday after barring access last week, all but closing down the last symbol of Korean cooperation. North Korea said no decision had been made on whether it would reopen the park, which lies on the outskirts of the city of Kaesong, just inside the country's heavily fortified border with the South.

"BETTER THAN CHINESE WORKERS"

South Korean firms paid $130 a month for each worker to a North Korean state agency which then redistributed part of the cash in local currency and vouchers accepted at state-run stores.   Continued...

 
North Korean workers make shoes at a factory of a South Korean shoes company in the inter-Korean industrial park in Kaesong, North Korea, in this October 16, 2007 file photo. The hidden human face of North Korea's move to shutter an industrial park it ran with Seoul is its 53,000-strong workforce. At the Kaesong industrial zone, North Korean workers earned regular wages and formed bonds with their southern compatriots, even flirting once in a while. North Korea's most skilled labourers have kept South Korean factories at the park humming for nearly a decade, at the same time putting food on the tables of an estimated 200,000 people in one of the world's poorest countries. REUTERS/Lee Jin-man/Pool/Files