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(LEAD) 10 N. Koreans presumed killed in bus collision at joint factory park with S. Korea

All Headlines 11:07 July 07, 2010

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details, comments; RECASTS lead; ADDS background)
By Sam Kim

PAJU/SEOUL, July 7 (Yonhap) -- Ten North Korean workers presumably died and about 40 others were injured last week when two commuter buses collided with each other at the communist state's border industrial complex jointly run by South Korea, officials here said Wednesday.

The collision took place Friday evening at an intersection in the Kaesong industrial park where about 120 South Korean firms employ 42,000 North Koreans to produce labor-intensive goods, a police official in the South Korean border city of Paju said.

Citing South Korean witnesses, the official said that a bus carrying commuters hit another on the side amid heavy rains but no South Koreans were aboard the buses.

"The case was reported by South Korean workers traveling to and from the Kaesong complex," the official said, declining to be identified. "The exact number of casualties and how the accident happened have not been ascertained."

Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo in Seoul said North Korean authorities quickly cordoned off the scene of the collision and were seen bringing casualties out of the buses.

"The authorities prevented others from approaching the scene, which made it difficult for our side to determine the number of casualties and the cause," she said in a press briefing.

She added that two South Korean companies in Kaesong reported missing workers following the collision. But she declined to give exact figures because they may have been absent for other reasons.

"The absences were not great enough to cause trouble in the manufacturing operations," she said.

The factory park is the last remaining symbol of reconciliation between the two Koreas, which remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

Its fate has increasingly hung in the balance this year as tensions rise along the inter-Korean border over the deadly March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship off the west coast.

The park has operated since 2004 after being agreed on by the leaders of the Koreas four years earlier in a rare summit. The number of North Korean workers there has been rising this year despite inter-Korean tensions, a sign that the cash-strapped North remains committed to maintaining the joint business venture.


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