North Korea launched a high-level inspection of a Seoul-funded joint industrial estate yesterday, two weeks after ordering hundreds of South Koreans to quit the complex, officials in Seoul said.
The Unification Ministry said it was too soon to assess the motive for the visit to the Kaesong estate just north of the border, which was developed as a symbol of reconciliation.
The visit comes 17 days after Pyongyang imposed strict border controls and ordered staff out of Kaesong in protest at what it said were Seoul’s confrontational policies.
Lieutenant-General Kim Yong-chol, top policymaker of the North’s powerful National Defense Commission, and four other military officers met representatives of South Korean firms and toured plants, said the ministry, which handles cross-border relations.
The colonel “said they were making the tour to inspect the implementation of the December 1 measures,” ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said.
“Another purpose of the visit is to brief South Korean company executives on the purposes of the December 1 measures,” he said.
“It is too early to say whether the visit by a National Defense Commission delegation is positive or negative,” spokesman Kim said.
North Korea has indicated it does not want to shut down the estate, which earns it millions of dollars a year. The number of North Korean workers at its 88 South Korean firms has increased this month to more than 37,000.
The workers earn about US$70 a month, but employers are required to pay wages direct to the North’s authorities, who return a portion to the workers.
Meanwhile, Pyongyang yesterday released more undated photographs of 66-year-old leader Kim Jong-il. The new ones show him making an official visit to a library at Kanggye City.
He is seen wearing a fur hat and thick winter coat despite the indoor setting.