North Korea began restricting traffic through two checkpoints in its tightly sealed border with South Korea yesterday — punishment for Seoul’s hardline stance toward the communist regime.
The restrictions forced the suspension of two landmark reconciliation projects — cross-border train services and tours to the North’s historic border city of Kaesong — setting back a decade of rapprochement efforts between the Cold War rivals.
North Korea also ordered a sharp cut in the number of South Koreans permitted to stay in a joint industrial complex in Kaesong to 880 — a fifth of the 4,200 with permits for the enclave and about half the number there on an average workday, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said yesterday.
The cutback is expected to affect 88 South Korean companies that run factories in Kaesong employing 35,000 North Koreans.
“Of course it’s a nuisance. We could leave the complex at our convenience and now that they’re restricting our entry, I foresee some difficulties arising,” Ahn Young-su, a South Korean manager in Kaesong, said at a border checkpoint.
The setbacks in those projects come on top of the suspension of another key reconciliation project — tours to the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain that were brought to a halt after a North Korean soldier fatally shot a South Korean tourist there in July.
“It is very regrettable that North Korea has imposed restrictions on border crossings,” South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said.
The border between the Koreas is tightly sealed, with hundreds of thousands of heavily armed troops amassed on both sides. But the two sides opened two corridors across the border as they sought reconciliation under South Korea’s two previous liberal presidents.
North Korea’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper blamed the South for the tension.
“The fate of the inter-Korean relations entirely depends on the attitude of the authorities of the South side,” it said in commentary carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
Meanwhile, North Korea yesterday released more pictures of leader Kim Jong-il in an apparent attempt to dispel rumors that a stroke left him partially paralysed.
State television said the 16 still pictures were of Kim inspecting Air Force Unit 1016 at an unspecified date.