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Joint Korean complex running after hotline snapped

28 march 2013, 13:58
0
A joint South-North Korean industrial complex was operating normally Thursday, despite Pyongyang severing a military hotline used to monitor movement in and out of the zone, AFP reports citing officials.

Around 160 South Koreans passed through the border control Thursday morning, on their way to the South-funded Kaesong industrial complex which lies a few miles inside North Korea.

"Movement to Kaesong is going ahead normally," an official at the South's Unification Ministry told AFP.

There had been concerns that operations at the complex would be affected by the North's announcement Wednesday that it was snapping its military hotline with the South -- the last official direct link between the two countries.

The hotline was used daily to provide the North with the names of those seeking entry to Kaesong, guaranteeing their safety as they crossed one of the world's most heavily militarised borders.

The Unification Ministry official said a civilian telephone line had been used to relay the names to the border guards via the Kaesong management committee.

"It just means the entry and exit procedures become a little bit more cumbersome, because the list has to go through one more hand," the official said.

Nevertheless, the Unification Ministry formally requested the North to reconnect the hotline, saying its suspension could impact "stable operation" of Kaesong, where more than 50,000 North Koreans work at small labour-intensive South Korean plants.

Established in 2004 as a symbol of cross-border cooperation, Kaesong has always managed to keep functioning despite repeated crises in inter-Korean relations.

The North said it was cutting the military hotline in further protest at recent South Korea-US joint military exercises, which are held every year and are regularly condemned by Pyongyang as rehearsals for invasion.

Their staging this year fuelled tensions created by the North's long-range rocket launch in December and its nuclear test last month.

Both events triggered UN sanctions that infuriated Pyongyang, which has spent the past month issuing increasingly bellicose statements about unleashing an "all-out war".

The military official who informed the South that the hotline was being cut, said it was no longer needed given that "war may break out any moment".

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