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North Korea has used 70% of wages earned by workers at Kaesong complex for its weapons program and luxury goods for the elite, South Korea claims.

Last week, South Korea suspended its operations at the jointly-run industrial park following North Korea’s recent rocket and nuclear tests to cut off the money supply.

Pyongyang has called the shutdown “a declaration of war”.

Kaesong was one of the last points of co-operation between the two Koreas.

North Korea reacted to the shutdown by expelling all South Koreans from the complex and freezing the assets of South Korean companies. It has also vowed to cut key communication hotlines with South Korea.

Kaesong saw thousands of North Koreans working for South Korean businesses, making clothing, textiles, car parts and semi-conductors.North Korea Kaesong money

On February 14, South Korea’s unification ministry said in a statement the wages, in US dollars, had been paid to the government instead of directly to the workers.

“Any foreign currency earned in North Korea is transferred to the Workers’ Party, where the money is used to develop nuclear weapons or missiles, or to purchase luxury goods,” said Hong Yong-pyo, the unification minister, in a televised interview, referring to Pyongyang’s ruling communist party.

Hong Yong-pyo added that 70% of the money was kept by the North Korean government while workers were given tickets to buy food and essential items, and local currency. The South Korean government cited “multiple channels” as its sources for these claims but did not divulge how it had arrived at the percentage.

South Korea estimates about 616 billion Korean won ($508 million) had been paid to North Korea over the years.

Hong Yong-pyo was quoted by Yonhap news agency as saying that South Korea did not suspend operations earlier at Kaesong because “the international community recognized its significance”, and it shut it down this time because “North Korea was only going to intensify its weapons development, and we needed to make a decisive move to alleviate our people’s security concerns”.

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South Korea, Japan and the United States have said they will be united in their response to North Korea’s claim to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.

North Korea said it carried out the test on January 6.

If confirmed it would be North Korea’s fourth nuclear test, and its first of the more powerful H-bomb.

The UN Security Council has also agreed to start drawing up new measures against North Korea.

However, skepticism remains over whether North Korea really did conduct such a test.

Experts have said the seismic activity generated by the blast was not large enough for it to have been a full thermonuclear explosion.

The White House said President Barack Obama had spoken separately to South Korea’s President Park Geun-Hye and Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe.

They “agreed to work together to forge a united and strong international response to North Korea’s latest reckless behavior”, it said in a statement.

PM Shinzo Abe told reporters: “We agreed that the provocative act by North Korea is unacceptable… We will deal with this situation in a firm manner through the cooperation with the United Nations Security Council.”Response to North Korea hydrogen bomb test

He added that Japan may take unilateral action, saying it is “considering measures unique to our nation”.

South Korea’s presidential office said in a statement that Presidents Geun-hye and Barack Obama had agreed to closely co-operate and that the international community “must make sure that North Korea pays the corresponding price” for the nuclear test, reported Yonhap news agency.

The UN Security Council held an emergency session on January 6 and condemned the test claim as “a clear threat to international peace and security.”

Japan’s ambassador to the UN, Motohide Yoshikawa, called for a swift and robust new UN resolution, insisting: “The authority and credibility of the Security Council will be put in question if it does not take these measures.”

However, the UN ambassador for Russia, which has been developing warmer relations with Pyongyang, said it would be going “too far” to say Moscow supported further sanctions.

Meanwhile, South Korea has begun limiting entry to the Kaesong industrial park in North Korea, jointly run by both countries. Only those directly involved in operations there will be allowed to enter from the South, said Seoul’s Unification Ministry.

South Korea has also said it will restart propaganda broadcasts across the border on January 8, an act which North Korea strongly opposes. The broadcasts were stopped in 2015 as part of a deal with North Korea to ease tensions that had escalated sharply in the summer.

The nuclear test came days before North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s 33rd birthday, which falls on January 8 and is expected to be marked by celebrations.

Hydrogen bombs are more powerful and technologically advanced than atomic weapons, using fusion – the merging of atoms – to unleash massive amounts of energy.

Atomic bombs, like those that devastated two Japanese cities in World War Two, use fission, or the splitting of atoms.

South Korea’s intelligence agency also told politicians that the estimated power of the blast fell far short of what would be expected from a hydrogen bomb.

Some analysts have suggested it is possible Pyongyang tested a “boosted” atomic bomb, which uses some fusion fuel to increase the yield of the fission reaction.

The United States and nearby countries are thought to be carrying out atmospheric sampling, hoping to find leaked radioactive material, which would give clues as to what kind of device was tested.

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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to North Korea has been canceled by the secretive country without explanations one day before he was due to arrive.

Ban Ki-moon, who was previously South Korea’s foreign minister, was due to visit an industrial complex in the Kaesong economic zone run jointly by the North and South.Ban Ki moon visit to North Korea

Speaking at a forum in Seoul, Ban Ki-moon said the move was “deeply regrettable” and that no explanation was given.

Ban Ki-moon would have been the first UN chief to visit North Korea in more than 20 years.

The UN secretary general said he wanted to promote reconciliation.

When he first announced the meeting on May 19, Ban Ki-moo said he would “urge North Korea to co-operate with the international community for the Korean Peninsula and for peace and stability”, reported Yonhap.

Ban Ki-moon was also due to meet South Korean business leaders and North Korean workers on his trip to Kaesong.

South Korean workers have crossed the North Korean border to return to the Kaesong industrial park, five months after work was halted amid high political tension.

Trucks and cars began crossing the border into North Korea at exactly 08:00 a.m. local time.

More than 800 South Koreans were due to cross to the jointly-run centre for what is being called a trial restart.

The zone, just inside North Korea, is home to 123 South Korean factories that employ more than 50,000 North Koreans.

It is the last functioning inter-Korean joint project and a key source of revenue for Pyongyang.

North Korea withdrew all of its workers in April, as ties between the two Koreas deteriorated in the wake of Pyongyang’s February 12 nuclear test.

Reopening the complex has taken months of negotiation.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said a total of 820 managers and workers planned to cross into the complex on Monday, with 400 to stay there overnight.

They will be inspecting production facilities to assess how quickly a full restart can be implemented after five months of inactivity.

South Korean workers have crossed the North Korean border to return to the Kaesong industrial park after five months

South Korean workers have crossed the North Korean border to return to the Kaesong industrial park after five months

The restart is being described as a trial but more than half of the South Korean companies had asked North Korean employees to report for work, the ministry said.

Negotiations on resuming operations at the complex faltered for weeks on South Korea’s insistence that safeguards must be in place to prevent any future unilateral shut-down of the site by North Korea.

But the two sides have now set up a joint management committee to run operations at Kaesong, which last week set a restart date for the complex.

The committee has also reached agreement on smoother access to the site for South Koreans by expanding permitted border crossing times and is negotiating about improving communications there.

The Koreas have also agreed to open the site to foreign investors – a move seen as making it harder for North Korea to unilaterally close the complex again.

South Korean firms will be exempt from taxes for the rest of the year, to offset losses incurred while the complex was closed.

But some local businessmen remain worried about the risks of doing business with Pyongyang.

“Honestly, I still feel a bit nervous, because you never know whether the North will change its mind in the future,” a textile company manager told the French news agency AFP.

“Who knows if a crisis like this won’t happen again?” he said.

The shutdown was the first for the Kaesong complex since it was opened more than a decade ago.

It came during a period of very high tension on the Korean peninsula.

The February 12 nuclear test led to expanded UN sanctions which, along with an annual US-South Korean joint military drill, angered Pyongyang.

It threatened attacks on multiple targets in the region, prompting warnings – and displays of high-tech military hardware – from the US.

Tensions have eased somewhat in recent weeks, however.

North Korea and South Korea have also recently agreed to hold the first reunion of families separated by the division of the peninsula after the 1950-53 Korean War later this month. It will be the first such reunion in 10 years.

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North Korea and South Korea have agreed to restart operations at the shuttered Kaesong industrial zone, Seoul has announced.

The two sides set a date for a “trial” restart of September 16 after talks that went through the night, the South’s Unification Ministry said.

Work at the complex stopped in April when the North withdrew its workers amid high political tension.

Kaesong industrial zone, just inside North Korea, is home to 123 South Korean factories that employ more than 50,000 North Koreans.

It is the last functioning inter-Korean joint project and a key source of revenue for Pyongyang.

Operations will “resume on a trial basis from 16 September”, a statement from the Unification Ministry said.

South Korean firms will be exempt from taxes for the rest of the year to offset losses incurred while the complex was closed, it said.

The two sides also agreed to measures to make access to the site easier for South Korean businessmen, Yonhap news agency reported.

North Korea and South Korea have agreed to restart operations at the shuttered Kaesong industrial zone

North Korea and South Korea have agreed to restart operations at the shuttered Kaesong industrial zone

The Unification Ministry also said that the two Koreas planned to host a roadshow to try and attract foreign investors to the zone in October.

Allowing foreign investors into Kaesong is seen by Seoul as a way of ensuring Pyongyang does not unilaterally close the complex again.

“The institutional foundation has now been laid for Kaesong to develop into an internationally competitive and stable industrial complex,” the ministry said.

Pyongyang’s removal of its workers in April came amid high tensions on the Korean peninsula in the wake of North Korea’s third nuclear test on February 12.

The test resulted in the imposition of expanded UN sanctions. Shortly afterwards, South Korea and the US launched annual military drills, angering Pyongyang.

In recent months, however, tensions have eased somewhat.

The two Koreas have conducted multiple rounds of talks on reopening Kaesong, but were deadlocked for some time on Seoul’s insistence that guarantees were needed to prevent any future suspension of operations.

Last month, the ministry said a five-point accord had been agreed on re-opening the complex but no date was set.

Owners of South Korean businesses at the zone have been calling for a deal and North Korea said re-opening Kaesong was in both nations’ interests.

In recent weeks, the two Koreas have also agreed to hold a reunion of families separated by the division of the Korean peninsula after the 1950-53 Korean War.

The meeting – set to take place at the end of this month – will be the first such reunion since 2010.

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North Korea and South Korea have reached an agreement about re-opening the Kaesong joint industrial zone, officials from Seoul say.

Operations there have been suspended since April when North Korea withdrew its workers amid rising political tensions.

On Wednesday the South’s Unification Ministry said a five-point accord had been agreed, but it remains unclear when operations might resume.

It comes after Seoul called for “final talks” following six previous rounds.

The agreement was signed by the chief delegates from the two Koreas, reports the Yonhap news agency. There are few details about the accord, but Yonhap says the deal is believed to ensure that a similar suspension of operations could not be repeated.

North Korea and South Korea have reached an agreement about re-opening the Kaesong joint industrial zone

North Korea and South Korea have reached an agreement about re-opening the Kaesong joint industrial zone

“The South and the North will prevent the current suspension of the Kaesong industrial complex caused by the workers’ withdrawal from being repeated again,” the Agence France-Presse news agency also quoted from the agreement.

A joint committee will also be set up to discuss compensation for economic losses, AFP reports.

The Kaesong Industrial Complex, which lies just inside North Korea, is home to 123 South Korean factories which employ more than 50,000 North Korean workers.

It is the last functioning inter-Korean joint project and a key source of revenue for Pyongyang.

North Korea withdrew its workers in April, angered by the expansion of UN sanctions afters its 12 February nuclear test and annual US-South Korea military drills.

Tensions have eased somewhat since then.

Pyongyang agreed to Wednesday’s talks hours after Seoul said it would start distributing compensation payments to South Korean firms hit by the stoppage – a move seen as a precursor to formal closure of the zone.

On Tuesday, the owners of South Korean businesses at the zone called for a deal.

North Korea said last week that reopening Kaesong was in both nations’ interests.

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South Korea has proposed “final talks” on reopening the joint Kaesong industrial zone, amid deadlock with North Korea.

Kaesong Industrial Complex has been closed since April, when North Korea withdrew its workers.

The two sides have held six rounds of talks on a restart, but are deadlocked on Seoul’s insistence that Pyongyang agree not to unilaterally close the complex again.

On Sunday Seoul’s unification minister said a written guarantee was needed.

“We want a clear answer from the North on preventing a recurrence,” Ryoo Kihl-jae said.

“Otherwise, we will be left with no choice but to make a grave decision to prevent even bigger damages on our companies in the future.”

North Korea blames the shut-down on South Korean provocations, including military exercises.

Kaesong Industrial Complex has been closed since April, when North Korea withdrew its workers

Kaesong Industrial Complex has been closed since April, when North Korea withdrew its workers

The proposal for “final talks” was formally communicated to North Korea on Monday via the communication line at the truce village of Panmunjom, South Korean media reported.

It did not include a date or time for the mooted talks, Yonhap news agency reported citing the Unification Ministry.

The Kaesong industrial zone, which lies just inside North Korea, is a major symbol of inter-Korean co-operation and a key earner for Pyongyang.

More than 120 South Korean manufacturers employ some 53,000 North Koreans at the zone, which has been in operation for a decade.

But work stopped in April when North Korea ordered its workers out.

The move came amid high tensions on the peninsula in the wake of North Korea’s February 12 nuclear test and then annual US-South Korea military drills.

Tensions have decreased somewhat in recent weeks, but the two Koreas have not yet found a mutually acceptable solution to the Kaesong issue, despite multiple rounds of working-level talks.

On Sunday Ryoo Kihl-jae met representatives of the South Korean firms, which have now been shut down for four months.

“It’s been almost 120 days. As you mentioned, I think the support [of the government] is not enough. We have not any income for four months,” said Han Jae-kwon, president of the association representing South Korean companies in Kaesong.

North Korea and South Korea have started in-depth talks on reopening joint-project Kaesong Industrial Complex.

The two Koreas agreed in principle to restart operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex after marathon negotiations over the weekend.

South Korea says it wants assurances that Pyongyang will not unilaterally close the factory zone again.

Work at the Kaesong zone has been suspended since mid-April, when North Korea withdrew its workers.

The move came amid high tensions after Pyongyang’s February 12 nuclear test.

The Kaesong complex, which is located just inside North Korea, is home to more than 120 South Korean factories which employ some 53,000 North Korean workers.

The joint project is both a symbol of inter-Korean co-operation and a key source of revenue for Pyongyang.

Sun Ho, who led the South Korean delegation, said his team would strive to accomplish “developmental normalization” of the complex “in accordance with common sense and international rules”.

Another official at the Unification Ministry said: “The weekend marked the first step, but the difficult part starts now.”

North Korea and South Korea have started in-depth talks on reopening joint-project Kaesong Industrial Complex

North Korea and South Korea have started in-depth talks on reopening joint-project Kaesong Industrial Complex

On Tuesday, a small team of South Koreans crossed into North Korea to check communication and power lines. It was the first time South Koreans had entered the zone in two months.

On Wednesday, around 100 delegates, including dozens of government officials and businessmen and engineers, entered North Korea to begin formal talks.

Pyongyang has agreed to allow the businessmen to inspect their factories and retrieve finished goods.

Both sides blame the other for the suspension of operations at Kaesong, and South Korea is now demanding safeguards as a condition for reopening the zone.

“The South wants the North to announce solid actions that will convince everyone that it has no intention of taking unilateral action to prevent movement or pull out its laborers in the future,” Sun Ho said.

“Pyongyang must take responsibility for its actions that caused considerable damage to South Korean companies with factories at the border town,” he added.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s chief delegate, Park Chol-su, said he hoped both sides would “promptly proceed” with restarting the zone.

“It is raining heavily, so I am very worried about those companies’ facilities and raw materials,” he said.

Pyongyang is reportedly expected to request that operations resume at once and that its workers receive higher pay.

Last week, some South Korean firms threatened to abandon the zone entirely and relocate their equipment.

A spokesman representing electronic and machinery makers in Kaesong had said: “Kaesong must be reopened or [the factories] have to move elsewhere.”

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North Korea and South Korea have agreed in principle to reopen the Kaesong industrial complex after official talks.

The deal, which includes facilities inspections, was reached after marathon talks held at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone.

Work at the factory park was halted in April amid high regional tensions.

Correspondents say the closure of Kaesong, seen as a symbol of inter-Korean ties, showed how serious this year’s political tensions were.

The industrial complex is a major source of income for the North.

Attempts to hold high-level talks last month failed on procedural grounds.

The meeting on the North Korea side of Panmunjom started on Saturday and lasted at least 15 hours.

North Korea and South Korea have agreed in principle to reopen the Kaesong industrial complex

North Korea and South Korea have agreed in principle to reopen the Kaesong industrial complex

Officials will meet at Kaesong on Wednesday to “restart operations, prevent an operation suspension in the future and normalize the zone as soon as both sides are ready to do so”, South Korea’s chief delegate Suh Ho told reporters after the talks.

“We got an impression that the North was very willing to resolve the Kaesong issue and is making great efforts as well,” Suh Ho said.

As part of the deal, both sides agreed to allow South Korean company managers to inspect their factories, as well as retrieve finished goods and raw materials.

Prior to operations being suspended, there were around 120 South Korean businesses in the factory park. The firms have been unable to reach their goods for three months.

Some have since threatened to abandon the zone entirely and relocate their equipment.

Seoul suggested the working-level talks on Thursday, a day after Pyongyang said Seoul businessmen could visit the closed complex to inspect and maintain equipment.

Late on Thursday, North Korea accepted the offer, the South said.

Pyongyang withdrew its 53,000 workers from the complex in April, apparently angered by tightened UN sanctions in the wake of its nuclear test in February, and annual South Korea-US military drills.

North Korea also prevented South Korean workers from entering the joint commercial zone.

The last South Korean workers left the zone on May 3.

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Officials from North Korea and South Korea are holding talks on reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

The two sides sat down together on Saturday at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone.

Work at the Kaesong industrial park was halted in April amid high regional tensions.

Kaesong, a major source of income for North Korea, was seen as a symbol of inter-Korean ties, and correspondents say its closure showed how serious this year’s political tensions were.

Attempts to hold high-level talks last month failed on procedural grounds.

The meeting is being held on the North Korea side of Panmunjom, South Korean officials said.

Officials from North Korea and South Korea are holding talks on reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex

Officials from North Korea and South Korea are holding talks on reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex

Seoul suggested the working-level talks on Thursday, a day after Pyongyang said South Korean businessmen could visit the closed complex to inspect and maintain equipment.

Late on Thursday, North Korea accepted the offer, South Korea said.

Prior to operations being suspended, there were around 120 South Korean businesses in the factory park. The companies have been unable to retrieve goods and materials for three months.

Some have since threatened to abandon the zone entirely and relocate their equipment.

Pyongyang withdrew its 53,000 workers from the complex in April, apparently angered by tightened UN sanctions in the wake of its nuclear test in February, and annual South Korea-US military drills.

North Korea also prevented South Korean workers from entering the joint commercial zone.

The last South Korean workers left the zone on May 3.

The talks are very limited but could pave the wave for discussion of bigger issues such as North Korea’s nuclear programme.

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South Korea has proposed working-level talks with North Korea on reopening the jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Seoul made the proposal a day after Pyongyang said South Korean officials could visit the closed complex to inspect and maintain equipment.

Work at the factory park, which was a rare symbol of North-South co-operation, was halted in April amid high regional tensions.

Attempts to hold high-level talks last month failed on procedural grounds.

“The government wants talks to be held at the truce village of Panmunjom,” South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said in a statement.

“Seoul’s stance remains consistent and centres on government authorities resolving all outstanding issues through dialogue.”

It said the offer of talks was made via a North-South hotline that was cut by Pyongyang in June but has now been restored.

North Korea has yet to respond to the offer.

South Korea has proposed working-level talks with North Korea on reopening the jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Complex

South Korea has proposed working-level talks with North Korea on reopening the jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Complex

South Korea proposed that the talks take place on Saturday.

Prior to operations being suspended, there were around 120 South Korean businesses in the factory park, which had provided the North with a source of much-needed hard currency.

On Wednesday, North Korea said it would allow South Korean companies to enter the complex, which is located just inside the communist country, to protect their equipment from damage in the rainy season.

The offer came after some South Korean firms threatened to abandon the zone entirely and relocate their equipment.

A spokesman representing electronic and machinery makers in Kaesong had said: “Kaesong must be reopened or [the factories] have to move elsewhere.”

Pyongyang withdrew its 53,000 workers from the complex in April, apparently angered by tightened UN sanctions in the wake of its nuclear test in February, and annual South Korea-US military drills.

North Korea also prevented South Korean workers from entering the joint commercial zone.

The last South Korean workers left the zone on May 3.

In June, officials from North and South Korea agreed to hold their first high-level government meeting since 2007, focused on resuming operations at Kaesong industrial park.

However, the planned talks were suspended after the two sides disagreed on the composition of the delegations.

North Korea then proposed high-level talks with the US.

However, both Washington and Seoul responded coolly to the offer, with the US saying that Pyongyang would be judged “by its actions and not its words”.

Meanwhile, South Korea said that it would increase its cyber-security budget from 5 trillion won ($4.38 billion) to 10 trillion won ($8.76 billion), and train 5,000 cyber security experts.

North Korea has been blamed for previous cyber attacks on South Korea, including an attack on six South Korean banks and broadcasters in March that affected 32,000 computers.

Kaesong Industrial Zone:

  • Launched in 2003, largely financed by the South to increase co-operation
  • More than 120 factories employ North Koreans in manufacturing industries, with goods exported to the South
  • Complex as a whole produced $470 million worth of goods in 2012 – the biggest contributor to inter-Korean trade
  • South Korean companies pay more than $80 million a year in wages to North Korean workers

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North Korea has announced it will restore the key hotline with South Korea at Kaesong Industrial Complex, as the two countries discuss where to hold talks on the jointly-run industrial zone.

Pyongyang said it would reopen a Red Cross hotline which it cut in March.

It also invited officials to come to Kaesong for talks on Sunday on restarting operations at the factory zone, after the two sides agreed in principle to talks on Thursday.

Work at Kaesong has been halted since April, amid high regional tensions.

Ties between the two Koreas deteriorated earlier this year in the wake of the North’s 12 February nuclear test.

North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are expected to be on the table when the US and Chinese presidents meet in California later on Friday for an informal summit.

The Kaesong factory complex is seen as a symbol of North-South co-operation. Around 53,000 North Korean workers are employed there by more than 120 South Korean factories.

The zone is a key source of revenue for the North and the biggest contributor to inter-Korean trade.

North Korea has announced it will restore the key hotline with South Korea at Kaesong Industrial Complex

North Korea has announced it will restore the key hotline with South Korea at Kaesong Industrial Complex

 

However, Pyongyang withdrew its workers in April, apparently angered by tightened UN sanctions in the wake of its nuclear test and annual South Korea-US military drills.

It had already cut a military hotline with South Korea, and another line used to communicate with the UN Command at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas, in addition to the Red Cross hotline.

On Thursday, however, it offered talks with the South on the resumption of operations and said it would reconnect the Red Cross hotline if Seoul – which had been seeking such talks – agreed.

Pyongyang’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) said the Red Cross link would be restored from 14:00 local time, AFP news agency said.

The two sides are still working out details of the talks on the industrial zone. The South suggested ministerial-level talks in Seoul on Wednesday, but North Korea has asked for lower-level talks on Sunday in Kaesong, which is located just inside North Korea.

In a statement, Pyongyang said that working-level talks were needed first, “in the light of the prevailing situation in which the bilateral relations have been stalemated for years and mistrust has reached the extremity”.

Kaesong Industrial Complex:

  • Launched in 2003, largely financed by the South to increase co-operation
  • More than 120 factories employ North Koreans in manufacturing industries, with goods exported to the South
  • Complex as a whole produced $470 million worth of goods in 2012 – the biggest contributor to inter-Korean trade
  • South Korean companies pay more than $80 million a year in wages to North Korean workers

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North Korea has proposed official talks with South Korea on normalizing commercial projects, weeks after operations at the joint Kaesong industrial zone were suspended.

In a statement from state news agency KCNA, North Korea said the place and date could be “set by the South side”.

Kaesong Industrial Complex, just inside North Korea, is a key source of revenue for Pyongyang.

But it pulled out its workers in April amid high tensions on the peninsula following its February 12 nuclear test.

Since then operations at the zone, where more than 100 South Korean manufacturers employ some 53,000 North Korea workers, have been halted for the first time since the project began a decade ago.

North Korea said late last month it would invite South Korean businessmen back to discuss the resumption of operations but Seoul ruled that out, saying working-level government talks should be held.

There was no immediate response from South Korea.

Mount Kumgang resort is a joint tourism project that has been suspended since a South Korean tourist was shot dead there by a North Korean guard in 2008

Mount Kumgang resort is a joint tourism project that has been suspended since a South Korean tourist was shot dead there by a North Korean guard in 2008

The KCNA statement, attributed to the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, said that hotlines cut during the period of high tension would be reconnected if South Korea agreed to the talks.

“We propose holding talks between authorities of the North and the South for the normalization of the operation in the KIZ [Kaesong Industrial Zone] and the resumption of tour of Mt Kumgang,” it said.

The Mount Kumgang resort is a joint tourism project that has been suspended since a South Korean tourist was shot dead there by a North Korean guard in 2008. North Korea has since seized assets of the resort’s South Korean operator.

Restarting reunions of separated families could also be discussed, the North Korea statement said, adding: “The venue of the talks and the date for their opening can be set to the convenience of the South side.”

While South Korea may want to discuss Kaesong, its government has made it clear in the past that more wide-ranging dialogue should be linked to progress on denuclearization.

The offer comes after several months of threats and rhetoric from the communist North Korea.

Apparently angered by the US sanctions imposed after its third nuclear test and annual South Korea-US military drills, it warned of attacks on regional targets and cut key economic and communications links with Seoul.

In recent weeks, however, tensions appear to have lessened somewhat. Late last month, North Korea sent an envoy to Beijing – seen as having the greatest degree of influence on Pyongyang – for talks, for the first time since its nuclear test.

Pyongyang has announced it is willing to allow South Korean managers to visit the suspended jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Complex.

In a statement carried by state media, North Korea said it was prepared to discuss with the businessmen how normal operations could be resumed.

But South Korea expressed worry about its citizens’ safety and asked that government-level talks be held.

Operations at the joint industrial complex have been suspended since the North withdrew its workers in April.

North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK), responsible for ties with South Korea, said it would guarantee the businessmen’s safety.

“We have given permission for the visit and can even discuss the shipment of products at the industrial complex,” Yonhap news agency quoted the committee as saying.

South Korea “may send with them members” of the governing body that oversees the complex, the committee added.

Pyongyang has announced it is willing to allow South Korean managers to visit the suspended jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Complex

Pyongyang has announced it is willing to allow South Korean managers to visit the suspended jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Complex

But a spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North, said what was needed at this stage was talks between both governments, which Seoul has been requesting.

Some 123 South Korean companies have factories inside the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which lies just across the border inside North Korea.

The firms employ some 53,000 North Koreans and the zone is a key revenue earner for the North.

But Pyongyang withdrew its workers two months ago as North-South tensions escalated following Pyongyang’s third nuclear test in February.

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The last seven South Koreans workers have left Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, after the two Koreas resolved outstanding financial issues.

The workers had stayed behind after the other South Korean staff had left to negotiate wages demanded by North Korea.

Kaesong Industrial Complex has been at a standstill since North Korea withdrew its 50,000 workers in April.

North Korea has previously restricted entry to Kaesong joint industrial zone, but this is the first time all South Koreans have withdrawn.

The last seven South Koreans workers have left Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, after the two Koreas resolved outstanding financial issues

The last seven South Koreans workers have left Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, after the two Koreas resolved outstanding financial issues

Kaesong Industrial Complex, which was launched in 2003, was seen as one of the last remaining symbols of inter-Korean co-operation.

North-South tensions escalated following Pyongyang’s third nuclear test in February.

The last seven South Korean workers had been expected to cross the border at 17:30 local time on Friday.

“The return was delayed a little [today] due to some technical procedure issue,” said Hong Yang-Ho, head of the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee

“The North [Korea] fully co-operated during our returning process.”

Hong Yang-ho also said he believes there will be discussions about the future of the complex, but did not elaborate further.

South Korean vehicles loaded with outstanding North Korean wages and taxes worth $13 million crossed into the North at the same time the workers returned.

Those delivering the money have also returned to South Korea, reports say.

The zone is home to 123 South Korean companies which employ North Korean workers, and provides the North with badly-needed hard currency.

North Korea blocked South Korean workers from entering the zone in April, and withdrew its 53,000 workers from the industrial park a few days later.

After North Korea rejected Seoul’s calls for talks on resuming operations at the park, South Korea announced that it too would withdraw all its workers from the complex.

It pulled out 125 South Koreans last week and another 43 on Monday, leaving the final seven to “settle accounting and other unresolved matters”.

Pyongyang has been angered by tightened UN sanctions imposed after its February 12 nuclear test and by joint US-South Korea military drills, which it has described as “attack rehearsals”.

On Thursday, North Korea sentenced a US citizen to 15 years of hard labor for alleged anti-government crimes.

American citizen Pae Jun-ho, known in the US as Kenneth Bae, was detained last year after entering North Korea as a tourist. Analysts suggest Pyongyang could be using the jailed American as leverage.

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North Korea has not responded to South Korea’s calls for formal talks on resuming operations at the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex, officials in Seoul say.

On Thursday, Seoul gave the North 24 hours to agree to talks on the Kaesong Industrial Complex, warning of “grave measures” if its offer was ignored.

South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye has called a security meeting to discuss next steps, Yonhap news agency reported.

North-South tensions are high following Pyongyang’s nuclear test in February.

Pyongyang blocked South Korean access to the site and pulled out its 53,000 workers earlier this month.

North Korea has not responded to South Korea's calls for formal talks on resuming operations at the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex

North Korea has not responded to South Korea’s calls for formal talks on resuming operations at the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex

“We are keeping close tabs on all developments, but the North has not expressed its position so far,” South Korean Ministry of Unification spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said, shortly before the noon deadline.

“All that remains is for the North to make its decision to resolve the issue,” he added.

A report on South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing presidential palace spokesman Yoon Chang-jung, said President Park Geun-hye had scheduled a meeting with foreign affairs and security ministers at 15:00 local time on the matter.

The remaining 175 South Koreans still in the complex are believed to be running out of food and medicines, because the North has refused to allow fresh supplies from the South into the industrial park, which is located inside North Korea.

The South Korean government has refused to spell out what measures it may take, but there is speculation that it may be considering pulling out its remaining citizens from the complex.

However, that would leave South Korean assets open to seizure by the North Korean authorities, as happened before at a moth-balled tourism site run by the two countries.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was aware of the South’s call for talks, and “sincerely [hoped] the operation of the complex [could] return to normal as soon as possible through dialogue,” a UN spokesman said on Thursday.

Kaesong Industrial Complex, which was launched in 2003 as a sign of North-South co-operation, was the biggest contributor to inter-Korean trade and provided the North with much-needed hard currency.

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North Koreans workers have failed to report for work at Kaesong Industrial Complex, suspending one of the few points of co-operation between the two Koreas.

Kaesong Industrial Complex is a joint industrial park and there are more than 120 South Korean companies that operate there, employing 53,000 North Korean workers.

The complex is seen as a crucial source of hard currency for North Korea.

North Koreans workers have failed to report for work at Kaesong Industrial Complex

North Koreans workers have failed to report for work at Kaesong Industrial Complex

The move is the latest in a series of provocations that have raised tensions in the Korean peninsula and the region.

“As of now, no North Korean workers have reported to work this morning,” a spokesperson for the South Korean Unification Ministry said.

The ministry added that 77 South Korean workers would leave the zone on Tuesday, but 479 were still inside Kaesong.

Kaesong complex was launched in 2003 and was largely funded by South Korea.

Seoul has said the purpose of the complex was to develop a joint industrial park where South Korean companies could manufacture their products using North Korean labor.

It said that would help North Korea start to reform its economy, which is in a dire state, and ease tensions between the two Koreas.

South Korea has given incentives to companies to try and encourage them to set up operations there. These include political risk insurance to cover losses in their investment.

As a result, if the project is threatened, South Korea also tends to lose.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said the boycott by North Korea would harm the country’s credibility.

“Investment is all about being able to anticipate results and trust and when you have the North breaking international regulations and promises like this and suspending Kaesong while the world is watching, no country in the world will invest in the North,” she told a cabinet meeting in Seoul.

“I don’t know what to do, honestly. I can’t simply tell my workers to leave or stay,” an executive from a South Korean clothing firm told the Reuters news agency.

“North Korean workers didn’t talk a lot, but they appeared to have complaints about Kaesong being closed,” the agency also quoted South Korean worker Sing Dong-chul as saying.

“They worried whether they would be working or not.”

Seen as a litmus test of relations on the Korean peninsula, Kaesong also provides hard currency for North Korea through taxes and workers’ wages.

South Korean companies pay more than $80 million a year in salaries. As a whole, the Kaesong complex produced $470 million worth of goods in 2012.

It accounts for nearly all inter-Korean trade.

For almost a decade the joint industrial zone has chugged on, through North Korean nuclear tests, rhetoric, and even military clashes with the South.

But now the last symbol of joint inter-Korean co-operation is effectively suspended.

North Korea has blocked access to South Koreans working there since Wednesday.

On Monday it said it would withdraw all its own employees and suspend operations in the zone. A decision would come later on whether it would shut it down for good.

North Korea has expressed anger at South Korean media reports that the North would not shut down Kaesong because its struggling economy is heavily dependent on the complex.

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North Korea has announced today it is withdrawing all its workers from the joint-Korean Kaesong industrial zone and suspending operations there.

The move follows weeks of warlike rhetoric from Pyongyang after it was sanctioned by the UN for carrying out its third nuclear test in February.

Kaesong industrial park was established almost a decade ago and had been a symbol of co-operation between North and South Korea.

However, a North Korean official said it could now be closed permanently.

In a statement, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said the decision “cannot be justified in any way and North Korea will be held responsible for all the consequences,” the AFP news agency reports.

Kaesong complex, just over the border in North Korea, employs more than 50,000 North Korean workers but is funded and managed by South Korean firms.

North Korea has announced today it is withdrawing all its workers from the joint-Korean Kaesong industrial zone and suspending operations there

North Korea has announced today it is withdrawing all its workers from the joint-Korean Kaesong industrial zone and suspending operations there

Pyongyang has already banned South Koreans from entering, but during a visit to the site, Kim Yang-gon, secretary of the party’s Central Committee, said North Korea would now “temporarily suspend the operations in the zone and examine the issue of whether it will allow its existence or close it”.

The North’s KCNA news agency quoted Kim Yang-gon as saying that South Korea and the US “insult the country’s dignity and make the zone a starting point of war”.

“How the situation will develop in the days ahead will entirely depend on the attitude of the South Korean authorities,” Kim Yang-gon said.

The statement made no reference to the nearly 500 South Koreans who are in Kaesong as managers.

One South Korean told the Associated Press he had heard nothing about the order from the North Korean government.

“North Korean workers left work at six o’clock today as they usually do. We’ll know tomorrow whether they will come to work,” he said.

Earlier, South Korean officials played down reports that the North could be about to carry out a nuclear test.

A defense ministry spokesman said the widely reported activity detected at the Punggye-ri underground test site appeared to be routine and that there was “no indication that a nuclear test is imminent”.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said such a nuclear test would be a “provocative measure”, and warned that North Korea cannot continue “confronting and challenging the authority of the Security Council and directly challenging the whole international community”.

Russia and China have called for calm and a return to dialogue.

Speaking during a visit to Germany, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that as a neighbor of North Korea his country was “worried about the escalation” of tensions.

Vladimir Putin warned there was a risk of a conflict on the Korean peninsula which would make the Chernobyl nuclear disaster “seem like a child’s fairy tale”.

The UN imposed tough sanctions on North Korea following its third nuclear test on February 12.

Pyongyang has responded by issuing almost daily threats to use nuclear weapons and saying it would restart its nuclear reactor.

North Korea has also shut down an emergency military hotline between Seoul and Pyongyang.

Last week it warned it would not be able to guarantee the safety of foreign embassy staff after April 10, and that countries should begin evacuating their diplomatic staff.

North Korea’s state media have been broadcasting a continuing diet of war and retribution with programmes about biochemical war, nuclear war and military preparations dominating the listing.

However, some analysts have suggested that the rhetoric is in large part designed to shore up the standing of a young, inexperienced leader, Kim Jong-un.

Meanwhile, Japan’s defence ministry said the country’s armed forces have been ordered to shoot down any North Korean missile headed towards its territory.

Over the weekend, the US cancelled a scheduled test of its Minuteman III ballistic missile, citing concerns that it could be misinterpreted by Pyongyang.

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North Korea has blocked the entry of South Korean workers into joint Kaesong industrial zone, in a move seen as further escalating tensions.

South Korean workers were being allowed to leave Kaesong Industrial Complex but not cross into it from the South, Seoul’s Unification Ministry confirmed.

The Kaesong zone at North-South border, which is a money-maker for North Korea, is seen as a key barometer of inter-Korean relations.

North Korea has blocked the entry of South Korean workers into joint Kaesong industrial zone

North Korea has blocked the entry of South Korean workers into joint Kaesong industrial zone

The move came as the US called North Korea’s recent rhetoric unacceptable.

Kaesong Industrial Complex is home to more than 100 factories. More than 50,000 North Koreans work there, as well as several hundred South Korean managers.

Permission is granted on a daily basis for workers to cross into the complex, where they can stay overnight. More than 850 South Koreans were at Kaesong when the ban was announced.

“South Korea’s government deeply regrets the entry ban and urges it be lifted immediately,” Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-seok told reporters.

“Ensuring the safety of our citizens is our top priority and the South Korean government will take necessary measures based on this principle,” he said.

The entry ban is not unprecedented – South Koreans were briefly denied access in March 2009 because of US-South Korea military exercises.

North Korea, which has been angered by UN sanctions imposed after its recent nuclear test and annual US-South Korea military drills, threatened to shut down the complex last week.

In recent weeks North Korea has also threatened attacks on US military bases in Asia and South Korean border islands.

On April 2, North Korea said it planned to restart its mothballed reactor at Yongbyon – the source of plutonium for its nuclear weapons programme.

Later in the day, US Secretary of State John Kerry called recent North Korean actions “dangerous” and “reckless”.

“Let me be perfectly clear here today. The United States will defend and protect ourselves and our treaty ally, the Republic of Korea (South Korea),” John Kerry said after talks with his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se.

In recent days the US has responded to North Korea with a series of high-profile flights of advanced aircraft, including stealth fighters and nuclear-capable B-52 bombers, over South Korea.

Officials have also confirmed that the USS John McCain, an Aegis-class destroyer capable of intercepting missiles, has been positioned off the Korean peninsula.

A second destroyer, the USS Decatur, has been sent to the region.

Earlier on Tuesday UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had warned that the crisis had “gone too far” and called for urgent talks with the North.

“Things must begin to calm down, there is no need for the DPRK [North Korea] to be on a collision course with the international community. Nuclear threats are not a game,” Ban Ki-moon said.

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North Korea has threatened to shut down Kaesong Industrial Complex it jointly operates with South Korea that stands as the last significant symbol of cooperation, after reiterating that it considered the Korean Peninsula back in “a state of war”.

The eight-year-old Kaesong complex in the North Korean border town of the same name, is a crucial source of badly needed cash for the heavily sanctioned North.

North Korea has threatened to shut down Kaesong Industrial Complex reiterating the state of war with South Korea

North Korea has threatened to shut down Kaesong Industrial Complex reiterating the state of war with South Korea

The industrial park funnels more than $92 million a year in wages for 53,400 North Koreans employed there, and its operation has survived despite years of military tensions. The latest threat to close down Kaesong came amid a torrent of bellicose statements by North Korea in recent days, widely seen as a strategy to increase pressure on South Korea and the US to soften their policies on the North.

Although South Korean officials reasserted that they were ready to retaliate if North Korea committed any military provocations, they said they saw no imminent sign of any such attacks.

On Saturday, cross-border traffic operated as normal, allowing hundreds of South Koreans to travel to and from Kaesong.

Over 300 South Koreans remained in the complex, where 123 South Korean textile and other labor-intensive factories employ the North Korean workers, at an average monthly wage of $144.

The fate of Kaesong is seen as a crucial test of how far North Korea is willing to take its recent threats against the South. Its continued operation was often seen as a sign that Pyongyang’s verbal militancy was not necessarily matched by its actions.

“The South Korean puppet forces are left with no face to make complaint even though we ban the South side’s personnel’s entry into the zone and close it,” North Korea said Saturday in a statement carried by its official KCNA.

North Korea said its dignity was insulted by South Korean news media reports that suggested the North kept the complex open to obtain hard currency.

In another development, some of North Korea’s main government-run Web sites were disabled on Saturday in what news media reports said were cyber attacks.

The disabled sites included those of Naenara, the government’s official Web portal; Air Koryo, the state-run airline; and Voice of Korea, Pyongyang’s international broadcast outlet.

North Korea Tech, a Web site that monitors Internet activities on the Korean Peninsula, said the problems appeared “to be part of a loosely coordinated effort by hackers to target North Korean sites.” By late Saturday afternoon, North Korean officials had not confirmed any attacks on government-run Web sites.

The problems come as some analysts suspect that cyber attacks have become an increasingly frequent weapon in the intensified sparring between the Koreas, although each side denies hacking the other.

South Korean officials suspect that North Korea was behind cyber attacks on March 20 against three banks and the country’s two largest broadcasters. The attacks came five days after North Korea blamed South Korea and the US for cyber attacks that temporarily shut down some of its official Web sites, and warned of “consequences”.

North Korea has been angry ever since South Korea and the US started a joint military exercise in early March. Its bellicosity further escalated when the UN imposed more sanctions against it after its February 12 nuclear test.

North Korea has since declared an “all-out action” against Washington and Seoul and said that the armistice that stopped the Korean War in 1953, as well as all nonaggression agreements with South Korea were nullified.

North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, ordered all his missile units to be on standby and if provoked, attack the US and South Korea with nuclear-tipped long-range missiles, although most analysts doubt the North has them.

A statement by South Korea’s military said that although the North Korean threats were not new, they “are unacceptable and harm the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.”

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Kaesong Industrial Complex at the North-South Korea border is still operating despite Pyongyang cutting a military hotline with South Korea on Wednesday.

The hotline had been used mainly to facilitate cross-border travel at the Kaesong Industrial Complex for South Korean workers.

It was the last direct official link between the two nations.

Pyongyang has been angered by US-South Korea military drills, and the fresh UN sanctions that followed its third nuclear test in February.

Kaesong Industrial Complex at the North-South Korea border is still operating despite Pyongyang cutting a military hotline with South Korea

Kaesong Industrial Complex at the North-South Korea border is still operating despite Pyongyang cutting a military hotline with South Korea

In recent weeks North Korea has made multiple threats against both the US and South Korea, including warning of a “pre-emptive nuclear strike” on the US and the scrapping of the Korean War armistice.

North Korea is not thought to have the technology to strike the US mainland with either a nuclear weapon or a ballistic missile, but it is capable of targeting some US military bases in Asia with its mid-range missiles.

More than 160 South Korean commuters went through border control on Thursday morning to start work at the complex, after being approved for entry by North Korea, officials said.

North Korean authorities had used a civilian phone line to arrange the crossing, they added.

Over 500 South Koreans are scheduled to cross the border in Kaesong in Thursday.

“We say that Kaesong industrial complex will go on running, even if the war breaks out. I don’t feel so nervous,” Jang Seon-woo, a South Korean worker, told AP news agency.

The joint project in Kesong, which was established as a sign of North-South co-operation, is a source of badly-needed hard currency for the North.

Around 120 South Korean firms operate at Kaesong industrial park, employing an estimated 50,000 North Korean workers.

There have been disputes and the North Koreans have, on occasion, blocked access across the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas, who remain technically at war.

North Korea has already cut both a Red Cross hotline and another line used to communicate with the UN Command at Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone.

An inter-Korean air-traffic hotline still exists between the two sides, according to reports.

Meanwhile, in a phone call on Wednesday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told his South Korean counterpart Kim Kwan-Jin that the US would provide “unwavering” support to South Korea.

Chuck Hagel also told his South Korean counterpart that the US-South Korea alliance was “instrumental in maintaining stability on the Korean peninsula,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement.

On Tuesday, North Korea said it had ordered artillery and rocket units into “combat posture” to prepare to target US bases in Hawaii, Guam and the US mainland.

In a statement on Wednesday, North Korea’s official news agency KCNA also said that North Korea’s air force was ready to “wipe out” US military bases in Guam.

However, Guam Governor Eddie Baza Calvo described an attack as “unlikely” and urged residents not to let the threats “distract from [their] day-to-day lives”.

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North Korea has announced it severs another military hotline with South Korea.

The hotline is used to facilitate the travel of South Korean workers to a joint industrial complex in Kaesong, North Korea.

Pyongyang has been angered by fresh UN sanctions following its February 12 nuclear test and US-South Korea military drills.

In recent weeks its habitually fiery rhetoric has escalated, with multiple warnings issued.

North Korea has announced it severs Kaesong military hotline with South Korea

North Korea has announced it severs Kaesong military hotline with South Korea

On Tuesday, North Korea said it had ordered artillery and rocket units into “combat posture” to prepare to target US bases in Hawaii, Guam and the US mainland.

North Korea has also threatened a “pre-emptive” nuclear strike against the US in recent days and told the South it has scrapped the Korean War armistice agreement.

While the situation is currently unpredictable, some analysts believe Pyongyang may be trying to force the US and others into negotiations, with all-out war unlikely.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said on Tuesday that North Korea’s threats “followed a pattern designed to raise tensions” and that North Korea would “achieve nothing by these threats”.

North Korea has already cut both a Red Cross hotline and another used to communicate with the UN Command at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas.

The military hotline is used by the two sides to communicate over travel to the Kaesong joint industrial zone, inside North Korea.

“Under the situation where a war may break out any moment, there is no need to keep up North-South military communications,” a senior North Korean military official was quoted by KCNA news agency as telling South Korea before the line was severed.

Until now, operations at the joint complex have been normal despite the rise in tensions.

South Korea’s Ministry of Unification confirmed that North Korea was no longer answering calls to the hotline, reports Yonhap news agency.

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