(ATTN: UPDATES with unification ministry's statement in paras 4-5, minor edits throughout)
SEOUL, May 24 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has locked and sealed the buildings at a shuttered joint industrial complex in its border town of Kaesong to protect equipment South Korean businesspeople left behind, a company official said Friday.
The official, of a company that operated a factory in the complex before it was abruptly shut down in 2016, made the remark, rebutting a news report that the impoverished North moved equipment out of the complex to earn foreign cash.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said South Korean authorities and other staff checked the facilities when they crossed the border last year to prepare for the launch of an inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong.
Confirming the visit to the complex in August -- the first time South Koreans had entered the area since its closure -- the unification ministry said South Korean staff also joined North Koreans in completing work to prevent freezing at the complex, at their request, later in November.
"We could indirectly confirm the condition of the companies' equipment at that time, and no signs of the illegal transfer of facilities were seen as was recently reported by some media," the ministry said in a statement.
"North Korean authorities have put locks on and attached paper to doors as seals to guard the buildings," the company official said. "The security of the buildings is still intact."
On Thursday, Radio Free Asia said North Korean firms have moved the equipment outside to use them for producing clothes that are smuggled to Japan and Europe via China. The report said such relocation was carried out under the direction of the North's ruling Workers' Party of Korea.
The unification ministry said earlier Friday that no unusual signs related to the report have been found, adding that South Korean officials are present at the liaison office around the clock.
South Korea has reportedly asked North Korea multiple times to take good care of the equipment to protect the businesspeople's property. The North responded by saying they are preserving the facilities well while they themselves are in an unfavorable situation.
Last week, Seoul gave the green light to the businesspeople to visit the park and check the condition of the equipment. If realized, the envisioned trip would be the business leaders' first visit to the complex since the shutdown, which was decided by the Park Geun-hye administration in retaliation for the North's nuclear and missiles provocations.
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