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N. Koreans at joint industrial park unable to make ends meet: defector

North Korean workers at the Gaeseong Industrial Complex were struggling to make ends meet with most of their wages taken away by the government, a defector from the country claimed Monday.

The comments by Kim Tae-san, former official at Pyongyang's Ministry of Light Industry, came less than a week after South Korea shut down the joint industrial park in response to North Korea's recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch. The North, in turn, expelled South Korean workers and froze South Korean assets.

The shut-down Gaeseong Industrial Complex is seen from the border town of Paju, South Korea, on Monday. (Yonhap)
The shut-down Gaeseong Industrial Complex is seen from the border town of Paju, South Korea, on Monday. (Yonhap)

In the aftermath, South Korean Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo, Seoul's point man on inter-Korean affairs, claimed most of the wages paid to North Korean workers at Gaeseong had been funneled into the ruling Workers' Party of Korea to bankroll its weapons development.

At a seminar on the Gaeseong Industrial Complex held at the National Assembly, Kim said North Korean labor workers only receive a small portion of their wages.

"South Korean firms are supposed to pay North Korean workers
US$80 each per month, but the North Korean government takes almost all of it," Kim said. "Instead, each worker receives 6,000 North Korean won ($6.70)."
  
According to Kim, the money is barely enough to buy a 1kg bag of rice.

"With that money, you could barely sustain yourself, let alone feed the rest of your family," Kim added. "Gaeseong is where some
54,000 North Koreans have been forced into enslaved labor."

Kim said the North Korean workers used to receive between two and four 'Choco Pies' -- chocolate-covered, marshmallow-filled snack cakes from South Korea -- each day, and with overtime shifts, they could stack up to 100 pies per month.

"In the past, one Choco Pie would commend 300 won to 500 won in the market," Kim said. "You could make more money selling your snacks than working at the industrial zone."

Kim said North Korea has replaced Choco Pies with its own brand of snacks.

Kim, who defected to South Korea with his wife and child in September 2002, said he welcomed Seoul's decision to close down the complex.

"By shutting down the complex, North Korean workers have been freed from forced labor," he said. "And it has cut off cash flow for the production of weapons of mass destruction by the North Korean dictator (Kim Jong-un)." (Yonhap)
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