South Korean firms threaten to leave Kaesong joint zone

Dozens of South Korean firms on Wednesday threatened to withdraw from a shuttered joint industrial zone in North Korea, complaining they fell victim to political bickering between the two Koreas.

Representatives of the 123 South Korean companies with factories in Kaesong have repeatedly urged North and South Korea to open talks to revive the moribund industrial park.

Of the 123 companies, 46 are manufacturers of electronics and machinery parts whose facilities are especially vulnerable to humidity in the current monsoon weather in the absence of maintenance.

"The manufacturers of machinery and electronics parts cannot wait any longer. Kaesong must be reopened... or they have to move elsewhere", Kim Hak-Kwon, who represents the 46 companies, told journalists.

"It has been 92 days since the complex came to a halt... our patience has been stretched beyond its limit", he said.

Kim urged Seoul and Pyongyang to lose no time in allowing company managers to visit the zone for maintenance.

Several companies have been in talks to move facilities out of Kaesong to relocate them abroad including China, Kim said.

Established in 2004 as a rare symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, the Kaesong industrial estate was the most high-profile casualty of months of elevated tensions that followed the North's nuclear test in February.

Operations at the complex just north of the border ground to a halt soon after the North banned entry by southerners on April 3 amid soaring military tensions with Seoul.

About a week later Pyongyang pulled all its workers out, prompting Seoul to withdraw its managers and officials soon afterwards.

Born out of the "Sunshine Policy" of inter-Korean conciliation initiated in the late 1990s by then South Korean president Kim Dae-Jung, Kaesong was a crucial hard currency source for the impoverished North, mainly through its cut of workers' wages.

Neither side has declared the complex officially closed despite the paralysis for the past three months, calling it a temporary shutdown.

Cross-border talks scheduled last month to discuss the fate of the complex were cancelled due to disputes over protocol.

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