PAJU, SOUTH KOREA (Reuters) - South Korean workers crossed into North Korea on Monday as the joint Kaesong industrial zone restarted operations five months after being shuttered by rising military tensions and threats of war.
The Kaesong factory park, a rare symbol of inter-Korean rapprochement, has sat idle since April after North Korea pulled out its 53,000 workers and was restarted amid a thaw in ties that has seen the two Koreas hold talks.
Hundreds of South Korean trucks and trailers loaded with raw materials crossed into the North. Workers lined up to exchange money into U.S. dollars and took in South Korean cigarette packs that workers say are a source of friendship with Northerners.
“I will greet North Koreans ‘Happy Chuseok’ because we are both Korean,” said Kaesong worker Kim Chung-jin, at a bank counter before his departure, referring to the Thanksgiving holiday celebrated by the neighbors this week.
“I hope the shutdown will never happen again.”
Kaesong is an economic lifeline for the North and 123 South Korean firms make household goods that generate close on $2 billion a year in trade with the South, as well as $80 million a year in wages for the impoverished state.
The park was the last remaining joint project between the two sides after the South cut off most aid and trade in response to Pyongyang’s shooting of a South Korean tourist and the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel blamed on the North in 2010.
North Korea’s KCNA state news agency hailed the reopening. “The Korean peninsula’s peace and peaceful reunification is our republic’s consistent and firm stance,” it said.
The South Korean Unification Ministry, which is in charge of inter-Korean relations in Seoul, said 820 South Korean businessmen and workers planned to cross into Kaesong on Monday.
Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Clarence Fernandez