(ATTN: UPDATES with businessmen's press conference, government's response in paras 2-10; ADDS photo)
SEOUL, June 8 (Yonhap) -- A group of South Korean businessmen asked the government Wednesday to approve their visit to the now-shuttered joint industrial park in North Korea to check their factories.
Twenty-three businessmen made the request to visit the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North's border city of the same name, saying they needed to check their facilities ahead of the summer rainy season.
On Feb. 10, South Korea shut down the factory zone, some 50 kilometers northwest of Seoul, in response to the North's fourth nuclear test and a long-range rocket launch early this year.
In a press conference outside the Ministry of Unification, the businessmen demanded the government accept their request, saying its compensation measures have not been enough to cover their damages.
The firms have claimed that they have suffered more than 815 billion won (US$701.4 million) in losses from the shutdown.
"I would at least like to bring back the raw materials and finished products," said one businessman who submitted the joint application. "In order to do that, we have to be allowed into the North to settle unpaid wages and other payments."
By allowing the visit, the government would also be able to reduce its compensation measures, he added.
The ministry made clear that it could not accept the request.
"It isn't appropriate for the businessmen to visit the North at a time when the government and the international community are strengthening sanctions against the North with the aim of denuclearization," ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said. "Moreover, the North has nullified all inter-Korean agreements and unilaterally liquidated all of our assets inside the Kaesong complex."
An association representing the 124 local companies with operations in the joint park vowed to continue filing applications in the future if Wednesday's request is denied.
South Korean nationals need Seoul's approval as well as the North's consent for a trip to the communist nation. The two Koreas still remain technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
The industrial complex, which opened in 2004, served as a major revenue source for the cash-strapped North, while South Korea has benefited from cheap but skilled North Korean labor.
But Seoul ended the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation over concerns that the money generated from the complex might bankroll North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.
In March, North Korea countered that it will nullify all cross-border agreements on economic cooperation arrangements and liquidate South Korean assets in retaliation for Seoul's move to impose unilateral sanctions.
South Korea unveiled a set of punitive actions including banning the entry of vessels that have made a port call in the North and blacklisting key North Korean officials and entities.
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