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(LEAD) S. Korea bans its citizens from visiting N. Korea except Kaesong complex

All Headlines 21:17 December 19, 2011

(ATTN: UPDATES with comment by South Korean official)

SEOUL, Dec. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korean said Monday it will bar its people from traveling to North Korea, with the exception of a joint inter-Korean industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong.

The precautionary move came hours after North Korea announced that its leader Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack on Saturday.

South Korea said it has taken steps to strengthen the security for the more than 700 South Koreans in the industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong, said Unification Ministry spokesman Choi Boh-seon.

"We plan to temporarily put on hold trips to North Korea, with the exception of the Kaesong Industrial Complex," Choi said.

Choi said that tens of thousands of North Korean workers at the complex went home earlier than usual at the North's request, but they will come to work on Tuesday.

The divided Koreas have kept the shared complex intact despite lingering tensions over the North's deadly attacks on the South last year.

South Korean companies produce clothing, utensils and watches, as well as electronic and machinery parts at the complex, employing more than 47,000 North Korean workers.

The Kaesong complex has become the last symbol of inter-Korean rapprochement, which previously boomed following a 2000 summit between the leaders of the two Koreas.

The project serves as a key legitimate cash cow for North Korea.

Choi also said a conference of experts scheduled to be held in Kaesong on Tuesday was also postponed.

Ten South Korean civilian food monitors also plan to return home Tuesday from Pyongyang as scheduled, he said.

Choi added that no decision has been made on whether the government will express condolences on Kim's death.


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