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All Headlines 11:02 May 20, 2010


S. Korean Worker Expelled from Joint Factory Park with N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea expelled a South Korean worker from the two countries' joint industrial park in the North last week, a Seoul government official said on May 18.

North Korea expelled him on May 14 over a booklet that was found in his office, a Unification Ministry official here told reporters. The booklet apparently contained training material for North Korean workers at the border factory complex in Kaesong.

"North Korea said it wanted to investigate how the booklet got to the South Korean side, and banned the worker afterwards," the official said, declining to be quoted by name or position.

The worker, whose identity was withheld, underwent several hours of questioning by North Korean authorities before being told to leave the estate, the ministry official said.

The expulsion comes as almost all other inter-Korean exchanges are grinding to a halt in the midst of heightening tension on the divided peninsula over the March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship near the border with North Korea.

South Korea plans to announce measures to hold North Korea accountable after the results of a weeks-long probe by a multinational team is released on May 20.

Seoul officials have hinted the sinking was caused by a North Korean attack, a role the communist state has dismissed as fabrication.

More than 110 South Korean firms operate in Kaesong, employing about 42,000 skilled North Korean workers for low wages. The complex was born out of the historic first-ever inter-Korean summit in 2000 and began operating four years later.

The fate of the park increasingly hung in the balance after North Korea threatened last month to an "entire review" of the joint venture. During the month, North Korea seized or froze South Korean assets at a joint mountain resort on its east coast in anger over Seoul's refusal to resume cross-border tours.

Since last week, South Korea has virtually halted government-level exchanges with North Korea and urged hundreds of companies to refrain from starting new ventures in the communist country, citing political uncertainties.


South Korea Halts Sand Imports from North Korea amid Tension

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean companies have suspended their sand imports from North Korea, one of the longest-running economic cooperation projects between the countries, as tension mounted over the March sinking of a South Korean warship, a Seoul official said on May 18.

Seven South Korean companies have stopped sending cargo vessels to North Korea since May 17, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said.

"We warned them to be careful about the safety of their employees" because political tension is rising between the Koreas, Chun told reporters.

He denied that the government pressured the companies into suspending their imports, saying they "voluntarily" halted their operations after the warning.

"There are fears that further deterioration in the inter-Korean ties may undermine their businesses," he said.

The suspension is the latest in a series of developments that indicate worsening ties between the Koreas after the warship sank near the border with the North, killing dozens of seamen.

South Korea suspects the North was behind the tragedy and is set to announce the results of its weeks-long probe into the sinking on May 20, vowing a stern response to those found responsible. Pyongyang denies any role in it.

The cargo companies have brought more than 38 million tons of sand from North Korea since 2004, the ministry said in a statement. Most of the sand came from the western coastal city of Haeju.

The trade, despite its small scale, was considered a symbol of reconciliation because it was seen as mitigating tension along the maritime border between the Koreas.

Their navies have clashed three times near the Yellow Sea border since 1999, the latest in November of last year.

Since last week, South Korea has also stopped funding government-level exchanges with North Korea and urged hundreds of companies to refrain from starting new ventures with Pyongyang.


S. Korea Archaeologists Return after Excavating Ancient Palace in N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A group of South Korean archaeologists returned home May 18 after ending a months-long joint excavation of an ancient palace in North Korea, a Unification Ministry official here said.

The 11 archaeologists had been teamed up with their North Korean counterparts since March to excavate the remains of Manwoldae, a royal palace of the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392), in the North Korean border town of Kaesong.

The group decided to return about three weeks earlier than scheduled because enough progress was made, ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said, dismissing speculation that rising tension on the peninsula forced them to come back.

The results of the excavation will be announced in a seminar later this year, he said. The palace was built over a century ago, and only the ruins of its foundations exist today.

Relations between the Koreas have been deteriorating quickly since a South Korean naval ship sank near the Yellow Sea border with North Korea in March.

Seoul officials suspect Pyongyang is the culprit behind the deadly tragedy and will announce the results of a multinational probe later this week.

Since last week, South Korea has stopped funding government-level exchanges with North Korea and urged hundreds of companies to refrain from starting new ventures in the communist country.

A joint industrial park in Kaesong is the only remaining joint economic venture between the divided states after Pyongyang ditched Seoul as a partner for cross-border tours to Mt. Kumgang on its east coast in April.

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